DUBAI (Reuters) - A top British university has cancelled a conference on the Arab Spring in the United Arab Emirates, citing curbs imposed by the Gulf state, which has placed limits on foreign research groups in the past two years.
The UAE, a major oil exporter and regional business hub, has not seen the unrest that has ousted autocratic Arab rulers elsewhere, but analysts and diplomats say the U.S. ally is anxious to prevent instability spreading to its turf.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, the London School of Economics (LSE) said it cancelled its gathering scheduled for February 24 “in response to restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom.”
The UAE also barred entry to a visiting university lecturer, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, on his arrival to participate in the event, called ‘The Middle East: Transition in the Arab World’, Ulrichsen said.
He told Reuters he had been scheduled to speak at the forum, which the LSE was due to co-host with the American University of Sharjah (AUS), on the topic of the international implications of protests in the UAE’s Gulf ally, Bahrain.
Ulrichsen, who has written critically about the Bahraini government’s response to mass protests that erupted in early 2011, told Reuters UAE authorities had instructed conference organisers to cut any discussion of Bahrain from the programme.
“They made it very clear,” he said.
The LSE said without elaborating it was aware of Ulrichsen’s situation.
No UAE official was available for comment.
A statement by the AUS, one of the Gulf Arab state’s leading universities, confirmed the conference had been cancelled.
It added: “The decision made by LSE cited restrictions on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom as the reason for the cancellation. AUS is unaware of any other information relating to the last minute cancellation.”
Over the past year the UAE has shown little tolerance of home-grown dissent, detaining dozens of Islamists who the authorities say are members of the Muslim Brotherhood plotting to overthrow the government.
In March 2012 the UAE closed down the offices of two Western pro-democracy groups, the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, citing licensing irregularities.
The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a branch of the U.S. polling and research firm, also closed down in 2012.
In 2011 the country refused to renew the permit of the Gulf Research Centre thinktank due to “objections by the Dubai government to various aspects of (its) work”.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Jason Webb