The prominent American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has been criticised for giving credibility to the United Arab Emirates which has a questionable human rights record and is prosecuting a brutal war against Yemen.
On Wednesday, Hamza Yusuf described the UAE as a country that champions civil society and is “committed to tolerance” in remarks on the sidelines of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies currently taking place in Abu Dhabi.
“The Emirates…is a country that is committed to tolerance; they [even] have a Ministry of Tolerance,” said Yusuf, who is also the forum’s vice president.
“This is a country that is committed to civil society…it is one of the safest countries on the earth, and so at essence, the Emirati people are committed to that message.”
The forum is bankrolled by the UAE. Critics have denounced it as a PR initiative to boost the the country’s image abroad and deflect criticism by human rights groups.
The UAE is also one of the main countries currently blockading Qatar and is in the process of normalising relations with Israel.
Hiba Zayadin, a Human Rights Watch researcher who focuses on the UAE, told Middle East Eye: “The UAE arbitrarily detains and forcibly disappears individuals who criticise the authorities within the UAE’s borders. Emirati residents who have spoken out critically are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture.”
She added: “Funding a forum for promoting peace in Muslim societies stand in stark contrast to the fact that expressing the slightest degree of sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE could put you at serious risk of detention and abuse.”
Other controversial speakers at the conference include Britain’s Extremism Tsar Sara Khan who is boycotted by many prominent Muslim organisations because of her targeting of Muslim activists.
Ed Husain, the co founder of the Quilliam Foundation and a former advisor to Tony Blair, is also a speaker at the conference.
On its website, Amnesty International says that the UAE authorities continue to “arbitrarily restrict freedoms of expression and association, using criminal defamation and anti-terrorism laws to detain, prosecute, convict and imprison government critics and a prominent human rights defender.
“Scores of people, including prisoners of conscience, who were sentenced following unfair trials remained in prison. Authorities held detainees in conditions that could amount to torture and failed to investigate allegations of torture made in previous years…
“The United Arab Emirates (UAE) remained part of the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition engaged in armed conflict in Yemen. Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE trained, funded and supported forces in Yemen, some of which were under its direct report.
“These forces engaged in arbitrary and illegal detention practices, including in Aden where they perpetrated a campaign of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.”