United Arab Emirates | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

United Arab Emirates


Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Abu Dhabi
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates led in practice by Abu Dhabi, the largest by area and richest in natural resources. Limited elections are held for a federal advisory body, but political parties are banned, and all executive, legislative, and judicial authority ultimately rests with the seven hereditary rulers. The civil liberties of both citizens and noncitizens, who make up an overwhelming majority of the population, are subject to significant restrictions.

Key Developments: 
  • In July, the government issued a law that increased penalties for using a virtual private network (VPN) to commit a crime, potentially deterring those who employ such tools to circumvent online censorship.
  • In November, an Emirati dissident who had initially been arrested in Indonesia was sentenced to 10 years in prison as part of a broader crackdown on individuals accused of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Another Emirati citizen, academic and activist Nasser bin Ghaith, was on trial during the year for critical online comments about the authorities and his own claims of torture, as well as alleged collaboration with Islamist political groups. He had been detained incommunicado or in solitary confinement since his August 2015 arrest. 
Executive Summary: 

The government of the UAE continued to suppress dissent in 2016, restricting the use of social media and utilizing an expansive antiterrorism law that criminalizes criticism of the regime. The authorities remained especially focused on activists with real or suspected ties to Islamist political groups, which—like all political parties—are banned even if they do not espouse violence.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the most powerful of the seven emirates, has reportedly taken on most policymaking authority since his older brother, UAE president and Abu Dhabi emir Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, suffered a stroke in 2014. Under Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership, the country has pursued an active foreign policy, deploying financial, diplomatic, and even military resources to combat perceived Islamist or pro-Iranian threats across the region. It has provided support for the anti-Islamist Egyptian government, participated in a Saudi-led coalition against Shiite-affiliated antigovernment forces in Yemen, and backed an anti-Islamist factional leader in Libya.

Economic disparities persist among UAE citizens across the seven emirates, and between citizens and many noncitizen residents, who constitute nearly 90 percent of the total population. Noncitizens have borne the brunt of government austerity measures associated with lower oil and gas revenues in recent years.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
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