World News

UAE gives Qatari doctor seven years in jail for backing Islamist group

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - A Qatari physician received a seven-year jail sentence from a court in the United Arab Emirates on Monday for supporting an illegal Islamist group, the UAE state news agency WAM said.

The case could further complicate ties between Qatar and the UAE, which both belong to the Western-allied Gulf Cooperation Council, but have diverging views of Islamist political groups that initially thrived after the Arab uprisings of 2011.

UAE authorities detained Mahmoud al-Jaidah at Dubai airport on February 26, 2013 on charges of supporting al-Islah, a group in banned in the UAE for its alleged link to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Islah denies any such link, but says it shares some of the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology.

Qatar has sided with Islamist groups like the Brotherhood and with Egypt’s deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

In contrast, the UAE has cracked down on Islamists at home and supports the government installed in Egypt after the army overthrew Mursi following mass protests against his rule.

The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi found Jaidah guilty of “supporting the secret illegal organization”, which it did not name, and sentenced him to seven years in jail and deportation after he completes his term, WAM said.

“(Jaidah) supported the organization financially and morally by contacting its leaders and trying to mediate differences within the group on administrative matters,” the agency said.

A relative of Jaidah, who asked not to be named, told Reuters in Doha: “He got seven years in jail. It’s shocking.”

Two Emirati citizens were also convicted of supporting the group and each received five-year sentences, WAM said.

The court’s rulings cannot be appealed.

The UAE, a U.S. ally and major oil exporter which tolerates no organized political opposition, was rattled by the rise of Islamist movement after the 2011 Arab revolts, although the trend has since been reversed in Egypt and partially in Tunisia.

In July, a UAE court found 61 people guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced them to up to 10 years in jail.

In January, 30 Emiratis and Egyptians were convicted of forming an illegal branch of the Brotherhood and received jail terms of up to five years.

Thanks to its state-sponsored cradle-to-grave welfare system, the UAE has largely avoided the unrest that has unseated several long-serving Arab rulers elsewhere in the region.

Islamists’ demands in the UAE include more civil rights and greater power for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body that advises the government but has no legislative power.

Last month, the UAE summoned the Qatari ambassador over what it called insults against the UAE made by an influential Sunni Muslim cleric in a broadcast from Doha.

Reporting By Regan Doherty and Amena Bakr; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Alistair Lyon