UAE says barred academic out of concern for Bahrain

DUBAI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) barred entry to an academic from a top British university due to concerns about possible disruption to Bahrain’s efforts to end political turmoil, the UAE Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The UAE, a regional business hub and oil exporter, has not witnessed the turmoil that has ousted autocratic Arab rulers elsewhere, but analysts and diplomats say the U.S. ally is determined to prevent instability spreading to its turf.

The London School of Economics (LSE) cancelled a conference on the Arab Spring it had been due to hold in the UAE on Feb. 24, blaming “restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom”.

It did not elaborate, but an LSE lecturer, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, said he had been barred entry to the UAE on his arrival in Dubai on Feb. 22 to participate in the event, called ‘The Middle East: Transition in the Arab World’.

In an unusual statement explaining the exclusion of the lecturer, the Foreign Ministry said the UAE was a strong supporter of efforts by the Bahrain government and the opposition to resolve matters through peaceful dialogue.

“Dr Coates Ulrichsen has consistently propagated views de-legitimising the Bahraini monarchy,” it said.

“The UAE took the view that at this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC state.”

Bahrain still sees almost daily protests two years after the start of a pro-democracy uprising, which has put the kingdom on the front line of a region-wide tussle for influence between Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain’s opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks on Feb. 10 for the first time since July 2011. Majority Shi’ite Muslims are demanding an end to the Sunni monarchy’s political domination and full powers for parliament.

Ulrichsen, who has written critically about the Bahraini government’s response to mass protests that erupted in early 2011, could not immediately be contacted for comment. But speaking to Reuters on Feb. 23, Ulrichsen said UAE authorities had instructed conference organisers to cut any discussion of Bahrain from the programme.

The UAE said it supported the academic excellence of both the LSE and its conference co-host, the American University of Sharjah, but added that “in this very specific case, it was important to avoid disruption at a difficult point in Bahrain’s national dialogue process which we fully support”.

Over the past year the UAE has shown little tolerance of home-grown dissent, detaining dozens of Islamists who the authorities say are plotting to overthrow the government. It has also closed the local offices of several foreign research institutions and think tanks. (Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Jon Hemming)