'Tolerant' UAE to build first ever Jewish synagogue amid ongoing crackdown on dissent
The synagogue will be part of a multi-faith “Abrahamic Family House” complex in Abu Dhabi, which will also include a mosque and a church. It will be completed by 2022.
The complex was announced in February after a visit by Pope Francis to the UAE.
There is currently a small Jewish community in Dubai, which uses a private house for worship. There are other non-Muslim places of worship in the UAE, including a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurdwara, and a number of Christian churches.
Foreign expatriates make up the majority of the inhabitants of the Gulf nation - with Indians being the largest group at 30 percent of the population.
While the UAE has worked to promote itself as a centre of tolerance and freedom, dissidents and activists have been imprisoned and the country has been criticised both for its internal repression and for backing authoritarian leaders and groups in other countries.
During th papal visit earlier this year, Amnesty at the time said it should not be used as an opportunity to mask over human rights violations taking place within the UAE, which this year announced its "Year of Tolerance".
"The UAE authorities are trying to brand 2019 as the 'year of tolerance' and are now seeking to cast the Pope's visit as proof of their respect for diversity. Does this mean they are ready to reverse their policy of systematic repression of any form of dissent or criticism?" said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East Research Director.
"Since 2011, the authorities have systematically cracked down on their critics, including activists, judges, lawyers, academics, students and journalists by way of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearance, torture and other-ill-treatment".
More recently, the UAE has also signalled its approval of repressive anti-Muslim policies in China and India.
Currently the UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but Israeli politicians have visited the country and it has been revealed that the UAE has purchased weapons from Israel.
"Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"But the UAE has shown how sensitive it is to its image on the global stage, and Pope Francis should use his visit to press UAE leaders to meet their human rights obligations at home and abroad."
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