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UAE cracks down on teacher association

published 5 May 2011 updated 23 May 2011

EI has condemned the brutal takeover of the Teachers’ Association in the United Arab Emirates, a prominent civil society organisation calling for greater democracy in the country.

On 2 May a decree was signed by the Social Affairs Minister, Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi, to dissolve the elected board of directors of the Teachers’ Association and replace it with state appointees. The decree is similar to the one issued by the Minister on 21 April which dissolved the board of the Jurist Association. The Minister’s action follows a 6 April public appeal that was signed by both associations, along with two other non-governmental organisations, which called for greater democracy in the country.

The Teachers' Association was established in 1980 to represent and defend the rights of teachers and has more than 280 members in the Emirates. Teachers regularly complain about their low salaries despite their high level qualifications. Many teachers have left the profession because of poor salariesand Dubai is now facing a shortage of teachers.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “This deliberate attack on professional associations arguing for the respect of democracy and fundamental workers rights is unacceptable. The UAE authorities should immediately stop their hostile takeover of civil society, free the peaceful democracy activists and open immediately a dialogue about needed reforms in the country with the legitimate representatives of the workers. If they fail to do so, the UAE authorities will join those regimes known by the international community as repressors of trade union rights and political democracy.”

According to the ministerial decree, the Teachers' Association violated section 16 of the UAE's 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits non-governmental organisations and their members from interfering ‘in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime’. The ministerial decree against the Jurist Association cited the same breach. The Law on Associations tightly controls non-governmental organisations permitted to operate in the UAE.

Since April 8, the UAE has detained at least five prominent democracy activists for allegedly perpetrating acts that ‘pose a threat to state security’, ‘undermine public order’, ‘oppose the government system’, and ‘insult the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi’. On 10 April, security forces detained Nasser bin Ghaith, an economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University, who criticised UAE authorities for failing to undertake significant political reforms.

EI pledges its support and solidarity to the teacher associations in this difficult time and has joined the international trade union movement in coordinating international actions to protect trade union and worker rights in the region. EI does not yet have formal relations with the UAE Teachers’ Association.