Prominent German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas turned down a book award from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday over concerns about human rights in the Gulf nation. The 91-year-old intellectual had previously accepted the award.
“I declared my willingness to accept this year’s Sheikh Zayed Book Award. That was a wrong decision, which I correct hereby,” Habermas said in a statement shared with the German Spiegel Online news website.
“I didn’t sufficiently make clear to myself the very close connection of the institution, which awards these prizes in Abu Dhabi, with the existing political system there,” he added.
The award is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi for over 30 years. Zayed, who died in 2004 at 86 years old, was the first president of the UAE.
The award is given annually to individuals and publishers “whose writing and translation in the humanities objectively enriches Arab intellectual, culture, literary and social life.” Habermas was given the distinction of “Cultural Personality of the Year.”
Winners of the cultural personality award receive not only a medal but also a lucrative cash prize of 1 million UAE dirhams (€226,498/ $272,249)
Habermas, widely considered to be the most important German philosopher in the second half of the 20th century, is associated with the Frankfurt School of social theory. Many of his writings on philosophical issues have been translated into Arabic.
The UAE has been frequently chastised for its poor human rights situation. The country’s rulers tightly control the media and wield broad discretion to punish individuals if they criticize the government.
Washington think tank Freedom House characterizes the UAE as “not free,” due to the significant restrictions on civil liberties.
Other human rights concerns include the UAE’s exploitation of migrants from India and other countries under its kafala system. The joint Saudi-UAE offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen has also drawn scrutiny due to the reported indiscriminate killing of civilians in one of the world’s poorest countries.
wd/sms (AP, dpa)