Conference speaker banned from UAE

The London School of Economics (LSE) has cancelled a conference which was due to be held in the United Arab Emirates tomorrow after one of the speakers was turned back at Dubai airport.

The conference, entitled "The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World", listed several prominent Middle East specialists in its programme, including Prof Fawaz Gerges (LSE), Prof Juan Cole (University of Michigan), Prof Roger Owen (Harvard) and Prof William Quandt (University of Virginia).

The speaker who was refused admission to the UAE, Dr Kristian Ulrichsen of LSE, had been due to speak on "Bahrain’s Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives".

Yesterday, Ulrichsen tweeted:

"I am being held on arrival at Dubai International Airport. My passport has been taken & I have been separated from my #LSE colleagues."

An hour later he tweeted that he was being put on a plane back to London. In subsequent tweets he said the only reason given was that his name appeared on a "blacklist" but he also said "orders" had had come through at the last minute to drop his paper from the conference.

Last year Ulrichsen published a critical paper on "Bahrain's aborted revolution" which ended by saying:

"Officials throughout the region will be observing how cracking down so hard has saved the Al-Khalifa [Bahrain's ruling family], at least for now. But their survival has come at a very high price economically and politically, and has shattered social cohesion in a country polarised as never before. 

"With a ruling family determined to swim against the tide of the Arab Spring, uninterested in meaningful political compromise and reliant on foreign protection as the guarantor of regime security, ruling elites will be absorbing lessons from the Al-Khalifa’s crushing of opposition at the expense of their domestic and international credibility."

Since being turned back from the UAE, Ulrichsen has also been subjected to a series of abusive tweets from an Emirati Twitter user, Jalal Bin Thaneya.

The conference was to have been a joint venture between the LSE and the American University of Sharjah (see press release).

According to the BBC, restrictions on the conference were imposed by "very senior" UAE government officials. The BBC also notes:

"To date LSE has received £5.6m ($8.5m) from the Emirates Foundation, which is funded by the UAE government, but the institution denied that the foundation was involved in placing the restrictions."

Given the previous embarrassing history of its dealings with Arab regimes, the LSE probably had no option but to cancel the entire conference rather than accept the exclusion of a single speaker. 

In 2011, the LSE was heavily criticised for having accepted £1.5 million from the Gaddafi Foundation (headed by the late colonel's son Saif, who had acquired a PhD at the LSE under dubious circumstances).

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 23 February 2013.