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Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Founder Creating Private Army of 'Christian Crusaders' in the Persian Gulf

The United Arab Emirates has secretly signed a $529 million contract with Erik Prince’s new company to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign mercenaries.

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AMY GOODMAN: This issue of who lives in the UAE and who would be—whose rebellions would be quelled, if you could talk more about that, Samer, and how much the United States is involved with the UAE, a close U.S. ally?

SAMER MUSCATI: I mean, there is no chance for rebellion, even small protests. We saw in January, the same day that we released our report in the UAE about human rights, about conditions over the past year, the UAE government detained and deported 71 Bangladeshis who had strike because of wage issues. So any sign of discontent or dissent, the UAE authorities act quite quickly to make sure that these type of actions are ended. And even with the latest arrests, I mean, these guys are basically asking for just basic reforms; they’re not asking for an overthrow of the government. And we see the government has come down very hard on them. So the chance of having a widespread movement, that we’ve seen in other countries, I think is not plausible in the UAE.

At the same time, the fact that they’ve taken such draconian measures against these activists, I think, only fuels the idea that reform is needed and, in the long term, undermines the UAE authorities in how they’ve responded to these so-called threats. So it’s—we’re hopeful that these activists will be released soon, but there’s no indication that they will be. And they’re being—basically they’re being looked at for crimes of opposing the government and for insulting the ruling family.

AMY GOODMAN: And the press coverage of what’s going on inside UAE?

SAMER MUSCATI: You know, the press coverage, similar to other press coverage of UAE human rights violations, is minimal locally. Many of the papers are run by the state, and there’s a lot of self-censorship that happens with journalists in the UAE, who are afraid to cover or are unable to cover these issues. It’s fitting that this piece was broken by the New York Times. And what we’ve seen from the UAE local press has been very little coverage of this, of this issue. And the coverage we’ve seen has focused on the statement that was issued by the government, as opposed to a lot of the allegations that have come from the New York Times. But it’s typical. The press in the UAE is not free, and they’re unwilling to report on the serious issues, including this crackdown, and basically present the government’s opinion and analysis, as opposed to what’s happening on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: And unions, Samer?

SAMER MUSCATI: Unions in the UAE, there are no unions. And people who try to formally organize and strike are deported if they’re foreigners. And nationals, if you want to form an association, you have to apply. The regulations are quite stringent. And if they do interfere in what is perceived as politics, what we’ve seen is the UAE government clamps down, dissolves the board, and basically takes over associations. So, there is no notion of unions in the UAE.

AMY GOODMAN: And what can the international community do? I mean, you have a lot of U.S. institutions, as well, not only the U.S. government working with the UAE, of NYU, Guggenheim, a number of institutions that are building branches there and operate there.

SAMER MUSCATI: Absolutely. And we’ve called on these institutions to take a stand. These institutions are partners of the UAE government. They’re saving millions of dollars from the UAE government. And they’re building these branches there, which I think is a good idea, but at the same time, they have to make sure that, you know, they’re not tarnishing their reputation.

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