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The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Al Salam palace in Jeddah.
The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Al Salam palace in Jeddah.

Morsi faces diplomatic test over UAE arrests

Role of Muslim Brotherhood in the affair under scrutiny after senior officials arrive in Emirates.

CAIRO // The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, is walking a diplomatic tightrope with the United Arab Emirates as he weighs Cairo's response to the arrests of several Egyptians accused of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

UAE authorities have arrested a cell of least 10 people since November, according to newspaper reports this week.

On Wednesday, three senior Egyptian officials and their aides, including the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Services, flew to the Emirates to meet their counterparts and delivered a message from Mr Morsi to Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE.

The letter was handed to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Wednesday evening by Essam Al Haddad, Mr Morsi's adviser on foreign policy, the state news agency Wam reported.

Egypt's senate yesterday set up a council to "work towards the release of Egyptian doctors in the Emirates and investigate the circumstances of [their] arrest", Egyptian newspapers quoted senate president Ahmed Fahmi as saying.

The allegations go to the heart of fears among Arabian Gulf leaders that Muslim Brotherhood supporters would attempt to "export the revolution" to their countries and overthrow seated governments, said Namira Negm, a visiting professor at the American University of Cairo, who is on a sabbatical from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"If the claims are proven, it would be very serious," she added. "We haven't seen this since the Iranian revolution. It would not just impact UAE-Egyptian relations, but the whole region and internally in Egypt."

The delegation of envoys from Egypt also raised questions about whether Mr Morsi was upholding the rights of Egyptian expatriates accused of crimes or protecting members of the Brotherhood, in which he was a long-time official.

"There's a big question mark," Ms Negm said. "I'm not sure he would have done the same for other Egyptians who get in trouble."

Abdallah Al Ashaal, a former diplomat, said Mr Morsi's decision to include in the delegation Mr Al Haddad, a leading Brotherhood member, was a mistake because the president should be acting as the head of the state of Egypt and not the group from which he came.

"The messenger from Egypt should not be from the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.

The problem for Mr Morsi was that he is more accountable now than when he was a leader of an underground organisation, said Mr Al Ashaal. The Brotherhood was a banned group in Egypt before the 2011 uprising that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

"The Muslim Brotherhood in power has to be different than the Muslim Brotherhood in prison," he said. "Now, they are the rulers of Egypt and they have to look at everything in an impartial way. That's why I don't think this mission will succeed."

Analysts said that any worsening of the relationship between Egypt and Arabian Gulf countries could also impact their economic ties at a time when Egypt is in desperate need of support for its crumbling economy.

No official charges against the men have been revealed, but a security source told Al Khaleej newspaper in Sharjah that investigators had the men under surveillance for several years and had found evidence of secret gatherings around the country and that they had recruited Egyptians in the UAE to their organisation.

The group was also said to have set up companies in the Emirates to support it financially, collected large sums of money to send illegally to its parent organisation in Egypt and gathered confidential information about the UAE's defence capabilities.

Article 180 of the UAE's penal code bans the formation of any political organisation or any organisation that compromises the security of the state, together with having any connections with foreign bodies to harm the political leadership.

One of the Egyptians detained in the UAE was Abdullah Zaza, 66, a dentist in Umm Al Qaiwain who had lived there since 1985, according to his son in Egypt, Ahmed Zaza.

"I love the Emirates and lived there most of my life," he said. "I am sure that there was a mistake. My father was not part of any group. He was happy there as a dentist."

He said his father was informed on December 3 that he must leave the country within 15 days for undisclosed reasons. Mr Zaza began trying to sell his apartment and close his dental practice but on December 11, police arrested him. Ahmed said he had not had any contact with his father since then.

Relatives of the detained men were planning to hold a vigil in front of the Arab League headquarters on Sunday, he said.

Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, the spokesman for the foreign relations committee of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, said he had no information about whether the detained men were part of the Muslim Brotherhood.


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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