DUBAI (Reuters) - An activist who has called for democratic reforms in the United Arab Emirates said on Thursday he had received death threats and was facing an online smear campaign.
Ahmed Mansour told Reuters the threats began after he and fellow activists started a petition to demand a greater say in the Gulf state’s quasi-parliamentary body, the Federal National Council (FNC).
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates headed by ruling families, does not allow direct elections or political parties.
Only about two percent of the population will be nominated to vote or participate in the FNC election later this year. Mansour and around 300 petitioners had demanded broader representation.
Mansour is a member of the online political forum, UAE Hewar, which is blocked in the country. He said he has received six death threats on Facebook and vulgar messages on Twitter and other websites.
“Some of them said they will kill me, they will chop off my head ... If they think they’re showing nationalism, to the contrary, they’re showing how unpatriotic and savage they are.”
The Arab world has been rocked by a wave of pro-democracy protests, which toppled Egypt and Tunisia’s leaders and sparked demonstrations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
“Political reform activists are gaining more support, even in the Gulf ... They (the government) want to stop any kind of request for political reform,” Mansour said.
The UAE government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The United Arab Emirates, the world’s third largest oil exporter, as well as Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, are seen as the Gulf states least vulnerable to the political unrest because of generous government spending programmes.
Mansour said his employer, a telecommunications company, had pressured him to transfer to a position in Pakistan, a move he also thought was motivated by his political activities.
“If they think I’m going to back off, they’re mistaken. As long as I have the ability, I will continue my efforts,” he said.
UAE nationals make up around 15 percent of the country’s estimated 5 million-strong population. It has one of the world’s highest gross domestic product per capita incomes at over $47,000 per year.
Analysts say the most likely places for unrest to appear in the UAE would be its less-developed northern emirates whose citizens have benefited least from the vast oil wealth in the capital Abu Dhabi or Dubai’s trade and property-fuelled development.
In March, state media said the UAE will invest $1.6 billion on infrastructure in its less developed regions.
Reporting by Erika Solomon, editing by Andrew Heavens