UAE shuts down office of U.S. research institute RAND

ABU DHABI Thu Dec 20, 2012 7:17am EST

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ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has shut down the Abu Dhabi office of the RAND Corporation, the American policy research institute, in the latest of several closures of foreign research institutions and think tanks in the Gulf Arab state this year.

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 any instability spreading to its turf.

In March, the UAE closed two international think-tanks promoting democracy overseas, Germany's Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI), citing licensing irregularities.

"We were asked by the authorities in Abu Dhabi to close the office," Jeffrey Hiday, director at RAND's office for media relations, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

He declined to comment on the reason for the closure.

No UAE official was available for comment.

RAND has had a small representative office in Abu Dhabi since 2010, Hiday said, which "facilitated evidence-based research and analysis by RAND experts in such areas as education, public safety and environmental health".

The clients for RAND research were emirate- and federal-level government institutions, he said.

The closures of NDI and KAS caused consternation in Washington and Berlin. NDI is loosely affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party, while KAS has close links with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

A spokesman for KAS said in April that the group, which did not have a license, had been trying to obtain one for the past two years and was in Abu Dhabi at the invitation of the emirate's crown prince.

Merkel herself told reporters that UAE officials had said they were closing all Western foundations in the Gulf state.

The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, which was a branch of the U.S. polling and research firm, also closed down earlier this year.

Over the past year the UAE has shown little tolerance of home-grown dissent, detaining more than 60 local Islamists, who the authorities say are members of the Muslim Brotherhood and were plotting to overthrow the government.

In recent days at least another four people have been arrested in what human rights campaigners said might be part of a crackdown on online dissent and a tightening of the Gulf Arab state's Internet law.

(Reporting By Raissa Kasolowsky, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

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