x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Brotherhood verdict provides closure and a way forward

The transparent resolution of the case promises to burnish further the UAE's image abroad.

The ruling in the UAE's landmark sedition trial, delivered to a nation holding its breath, was a dramatic conclusion to a long, methodical process. The legal, political and social closure it provides will now open new chapters for the lives of all those who were on trial.

Of the 94 accused, 69 were found guilty and 25 were acquitted. Eight of those convicted are still fugitives and face new trials if apprehended or they turn themselves in. One woman, who was acquitted, remains in a US hospital undergoing treatment paid for by the government. And the other 61 are on their way to prison, to serve sentences ranging from seven to 10 years for membership in a conspiratorial secret organisation tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and related offences.

From the perspective of the UAE, a moderate and prosperous enclave in a region beset by division and war, the convictions draw an important line. Sovereignty and internal security must be defended in a region where trans-national ethnic and religious pressures pay no respect to national boundaries or identities. The Arab Spring has affected all governments in the Middle East, but there are radically different narratives at play; a systematic and even-handed trial on such sensitive charges is something the peoples of many countries can only envy.

As our columnists and reporting emphasise today, the UAE is far from the bleak and sometimes horrible stories playing out in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the region. Indeed, the transparent resolution of the case promises to burnish further the UAE's image abroad.

But justice does not cease when the TV lights are turned off. A fair trial is not a social goal in itself, but only a tool that society uses to work towards just treatment for all. Those acquitted will be seeking to resume their normal lives, and society's reaction will be a critical test.

In that sense we must all live up to the thought expressed yesterday by Zayed Al Shamsi, president of the UAE's association of lawyers and jurists: "We are certain of the fairness and independence of our justice. We congratulate those who were acquitted; our hearts and communities are open to them … As to those who were convicted, we wish them God's forgiveness and we hope that, when they complete their prison sentences, they will come back into society with a better mindset".

Indeed, it is an important principle of justice that no stigma should be attached to being tried and acquitted.

The defendants were accused of belonging to groups aiming to undermine the UAE's rulers and ultimately to topple the Government. The irony is that the openness and liberty of the UAE's society and governance make that kind of plotting so unnecessary. Now that openness can be demonstrated and validated yet again, by all elements of society making sure that the individuals who were acquitted can resume their full access to the opportunities that the society offers.

After all, those who were acquitted - and, for that matter, those found guilty - are all the children of the nation, and should be brought back to contributing membership in society as soon as possible.

The 25 people who were acquitted, and about 200 others who were investigated but not charged, were suspected of having listened to ideas, and flirted with methods, that have no place in an open society. But shunning these people, who are guilty of no crime, risks generating resentment, rather than reconciliation, in them and in others.

Indeed, magnanimity to those who were suspected but have done nothing wrong, and also to those who repent of minor imprudences, is just the sort of healthy example of tolerance that this troubled region needs.The UAE is well-positioned to take a leading role in easing some of the Middle East's tensions. The region has by many accounts been sinking into a quagmire of sectarian strife, among its other problems.

A little tolerance towards a few people cleared by the courts will certainly not by itself solve the region's problems. But the good example the UAE has set with this court case can become a beacon. Simple fair treatment for those acquitted yesterday will be a good way for state and society to continue to set an example to the region.