The United Arab Emirates, the confederation that includes Dubai, has become a nexus of political activity concerning Iran, as numerous governments and groups have seized on the country's location and its longstanding ties with Tehran to get a better understanding of Iran and its people. Also, at least one group run by Iranian-American opposition figures, named the Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence, has used Dubai to train Iranians in techniques of “civil disobedience”.
About 200,000 Iranians live in Dubai, and contacts with them are considered especially useful because they are not political refugees, as in some other cities outside Iran with Iranian populations.
Iranians in Dubai have been attracted here in large part because of the city's openness and freewheeling business climate. The emirate is an important transshipment point for goods and products headed to Iran. And Iranians can use its banks and financial institutions to do business with other countries, which is harder to do in Iran thanks to trade sanctions and U.S. pressure not to do business with Iran.
Among the nongovernmental groups seizing on those links is the Iranian Center for Applied Nonviolence, which invites Iranians to workshops here to teach them how peaceful revolts in Georgia, the Philippines and elsewhere were set off. The center, led by Ramin Ahmadi, an Iranian-American opposition figure, says he holds the training sessions every three months or so on civil disobedience, hoping to foment a nonviolent revolt in Iran too. The International Center for Non-Violent Conflict, a separate organization based in Washington, helped organize one of the training sessions.
"We wanted to find a place where we were safe, where they can't send paramilitaries to gun you down, and where large numbers of Iranians go," said Ahmadi, who is a physician in the United States. "The last thing the Iranian regime will want to do is cause themselves trouble in Dubai. So it provides us with a degree of protection."
Critics of Ahmadi's work say it threatens to taint opposition figures inside Iran with appearing to cooperate with outside agitators. At least two people were imprisoned after attending one of his sessions last year