The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it would put on trial 30 Emiratis and Egyptians accused of setting up an illegal branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, part of a crackdown on the Islamist organization that has soured relations with Cairo.
Ties between Egypt and the UAE have been strained since the revolution that toppled veteran Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, a long-time Gulf ally, in 2011, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s subsequent rise to power.
The U.S.-allied UAE has long been distrustful of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the country. The UAE was openly critical when the Brotherhood helped propel Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi to power last year.
A group of 94 Emiratis is on trial in the UAE for belonging to an illegal organization and plotting to overthrow the government. A verdict is expected on July 2.
Most of the defendants are members of an Islamist group called al-Islah (Reform), which denies the government’s accusation that it is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A statement on the UAE’s WAM state news agency on Wednesday said that some in the group had “set up and operated a branch of an organization with an international nature … for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt without a license”.
Citing state prosecutor Ahmed al-Danhani, WAM reported that the group had attempted to recruit new members and received financial support from a “secret organization that had sought to seize power in the country”, a reference to the 94 dissidents.
The statement also said the group had stolen a USB memory stick belonging to a government department which contained information about the “secret organization” which they then disseminated and discussed at a secret meeting. The report did not say if and when the members of the purported cell were detained, nor how many of the 30 people referred to the Federal Supreme Court were Emiratis and how many Egyptians.
Ahmed Aref, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, said he was not aware of Wednesday’s case.
“A lot of these files are not dealt with in a way that protects people’s rights and the charges are trials for political opinions,” Aref said. “They are dealt with using a security mentality similar to pre-revolution times in Egypt.”
The Egyptian embassy in Abu Dhabi was not immediately available for comment.
The UAE pardoned more than 100 Egyptian prisoners in April in an apparent gesture to improve bilateral relations but did not include 11 Egyptians detained last year on suspicion of training Islamists on how to overthrow governments.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt said at the time that some detainees were its members and that they had been wrongfully arrested. The organization has sought to reassure Gulf states that it has no plan to push for political change beyond Egypt’s borders.
Essam al-Erian, deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s Egyptian political wing, criticized the UAE this week, saying authorities were “delusional” if they thought they could harm Egypt with the arrests.
The Freedom and Justice Party distanced itself from Erian’s comments, which were published on the state news agency on Monday, saying they did not represent the official view of the party.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also said Cairo valued the “brotherly relations” it shared with the UAE. Prime Minister Hisham Kandil on Wednesday said “there was no real difference between the two states”.