Wednesday, May 6, 2009

UAE Royal Torture Case

I lived in the United Arab Emirates for 18 months in 2005 and 2006. I liked the country but I always had reservations. It always appeared magnificent on the surface and many expats had no problem ignoring the undemocratic nature of the state. In fact many used to argue that life in an Arab emirate was better and even safer than life in the west. In some ways this was true. The UAE has very little conventional crime and the young and old can walk the streets day and night without any fear. I often heard expats claim that the UAE was a safer environment to raise children than Britain or Ireland. However, if anybody ever made the effort to dig a little deeper they began to see the darker side to life in the UAE. Institutional racism toward Asians, zero workers rights and an utterly undemocratic system are all present in the UAE. In the last two weeks a horrific example of this has come to the attention of the world media.

A member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan (pictured) who is a younger half brother of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and son of the revered late Sheikh Zayed who founded the modern UAE has been caught on tape engaging in particularly sadistic torture. The tape was smuggled out of the UAE by American citizen Bassam Nabulsi whom fled the UAE after he fell out with Sheikh Issa whom he had business dealings with. In the graphic tape the Sheikh is seen mercilessly torturing the man who is an Afghan grain salesman that apparently overcharged the Sheikh for a delivery to his ranch. The Sheikh is clearly seen Whipping the man, beating him with a board with a nail in it, rubbing salt in his wounds, using a cattle prod against his genitals, burning his genitals and finally running over him several times in his Mercedes.

Secret Dubai Diary describe the reaction of the UAE authorities
In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.

"The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared.

The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother.

The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department."

Below is the ABC report on the incident. It contains some of the graphic images from the torture video

For the record, I am glad I live in a western democratic state. Our leaders may have clumsily blundered us into a recession but they are not above the law. I'll take my chances with the street crime. I would prefer to be mugged by a junkie than bundled into a van by secret police. On the surface the UAE is a wonderful place but underneath, where it counts it is rotten. Sometimes on the surface, a country like Ireland may seem decadent and materialistic but underneath, where it counts, it is solid.


Robert J. Avrech said...


Traditionally, police states are free from street crime. Nazi Germany was perfectly safe——unless you were a Jew or a Communist. Same for Fascist Italy. Saudi Arabia is safe.

But the safety is illusory for the entire society is under lock and key and the security services are the monsters under the bed.

With freedom and restraints on police power comes crime.

Those who argue for the benefits of a "safe" police state are, as you wisely point out, not quite seeing the entire picture.

Zaki said...

This story is not that surprising to me at all. Having lived for many years in Morocco I have heard horrible stories of guest workers treated awfully bad in Saudi Arabia. Their passports are taken away the moment they arrive and given an identification paper. They are segregated from Saudi nationals. They are not allowed to travel freely outside the city they work in. They appartemnts are often raided to search for booze and othert material deemed not necessary by the Wahabi state police. Hundreds of young moroccan guest workers have died under suspiscious conditions. One example that was given to me about a young moroccan who was thrown out of his balcony from a third floor apartement complex in the middle of the night just because he did show resistance for an arrest for a possession of ONE bottle of beer that was probably consummed by one of his friend from another country, maybe Bosnia who knows? His parents received about $10,000 and the alleged cause of death was work accident because he worked as a construction workers.

The amazing things is that all the alcohol consumed in that country is supposedly illegal yet huge amount enter the country. The only thing that people needs to do is to take away any evidence of it when consumed. The most widely used method according to guest workers and so-called "modererate Saudi drinkers" is the break all glass bottles into small pieces. The state police is very rude and employ violence to extreme measures even for minor things. The country is a totalitarian and xenophobic to the core, even to the muslim guest workers. It is unbeleivable what they are doing to their foreign guest workers. And this without mentioning the hundred of thousands of houses maids (girls of 16-20 and even older) allowed in from the muslim population of the Philipines, maylesia. I have read horror stories of rape by husbands and torture and death with family accomplices, including wifes, who do not want these girls to complain to their own consulates. Remember they cannot leave the home they work in unless they are permitted to do so.

It is unjust and the west seems oblivious to these treatments of foreigners in the Golf states. People sometimes make the distinction between Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, UAE, Quatar and so on.. if they only know that the deceptive nature of these so-called satelites countries who are have an overwhelmingly strong ties with Saudi arabia leading tribal families. It goes to show that when oil enters the equation, nothing can stop, even when at time we hear that things will change.

Just google saudi arabia or golf states with foreign workers, you will get thousands of entries describing the hellish "psycological Goulag" like conditions. No one report show the Golf states in positive light and if it is it must sponsored by the states themselves in their deceptive PR agandas for which they spend billions of dollars in.

I am not going to mention the cases of women, specially foreign born women married to Saudi nationals. Just recenly a story appeared in the Herald's tribute about a young devout muslim Moroccan wife who was divorced by her husband. The police appeared in the house and told her the news and add insult to injury told her she has 4 hours to pack her belongings in order for her to be taken to the airport for a direct flight to Casablanca. The picture of the woman'face was very touching.

Anyway, weren't there a famous British diplomat case that made the headline 6 years ago or so about his torture and incarceration. I forget his name. Anyway. This latest clip episode of not the exception to the rule, it is the rule. And I am so certain and confident that it is widespread and even endemic to the desert culture. They know very well that other muslims HATE them for their lack of frugality and respect for others because of their petro-dollars. And to this they respond in kind by showing who has more power. It is all about power and submission. The culture and religion dictate it. And people wonder why Saddam Hussein state police did what it did to dissidents, and ethnic groups and the once fleeting conquest of Koweit. The famed German film Director Werner Herzog's film "Lessons of Darkeness" should be seen by everyone, who try to uderstand the unexplicable.

I would never set foot in those countries, regardless of the financial rewards. They are corrupt and UNETHICAL (if I may use a religious conotation here) and their money rich banks is not going to change their true patriachial nature, xenophobic tendencies, and tyranical and totalitarian political system.

Ted Leddy said...


Your analysis is spot on. The dilemma with Dubai however is that westerners are treated like kings. Zero crime is not the only attraction. Virtually no tax, Indian servants and cheap costs all add to the quality of life. Realistically it is highly unlikely that a European or an American would find themselves the victim of state brutality. In practise if a westerner became too critical of the regime they would politely be made leave the country.

Therefor for westerners (unlike the poor Afghan chap in this case) the debate becomes one of values. Thus the following questions have to be asked. If you were certain that you were immune from the dangers of living in a police state might you be tempted to favour that type of lifestyle instead of residing in a democracy ? And also, how highly do you actually value democratic principles ?

On any given night out in Dubai conversation would frequently turn to this question. Is life better here or at home ? I always argued that when it really counts, the western democracy will not let you down where as a country like the UAE will, this I believe to be true even for the western elite. I was however usually in the minority when arguing this point.

Zaki said...

I have found the story about the Moroccan divorce lady example I talked about. The "Zaki" comment is not mine.

Ted Leddy said...


Thank you for your interesting piece.

I have heard many similar stories involving foreign workers during my time in Dubai. The worst of course being the hundreds of thousands of Asian (Indian and Pakistani mainly) labourers "hired" to build during the massive construction boom. They are virtually slaves with no rights whatsoever. Seeing them on a daily basis getting shipped from their camps in the deserts to the building sites was very disturbing. I too have heard the horror stories involving Filipino maids working for local Emerati families. They could find themselves being used as sex slaves and then imprisoned when they get pregnant for having sex outside of marriage.

Thanks for the link about the story of the Moroccan woman. I just read it. Truly bizarre.

Interesting point about the alcohol. I remember hearing a story of a man who phoned the Dubai police because he thought he was being burgled. On arrival the police found booze in the mans house and arrested him.

I am unaware of the case involving the British diplomat but I will look into it.

You are correct. The wrath of the authorities in the Gulf states is directed mainly at "lesser" Arabs and Muslims, in other words, Muslims not connected with the ruling classes. The Afghan grain dealer in the above case being such an example.

I will look out for "lessons of darkness"

I can see why you would never want set foot in any of those countries. However there are nearly 200 countries in the world. Only about 80 are democracies. If you decide against travelling to all non democratic countries it severely limits your options. For someone like me who is addicted to travelling I cannot do this.

Thanks again Zaki

zaki said...

I finally found the name of the dual British/Canadian person who went through a lot in Saudia Arabia. I thought he was a diplomat however he was working there under contract with the British government. His name is William Sampson.

I saw a two hours special documantory on CBC (canadian Broadcasting Compagny) a few years ago, that's why this case stayed in my mind.

Here are few links I have found

This link refers to a British Sandy Mitchell.

This one is more general

Good reading and hopefully less disgust from these totalitarian cultures.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks for the links Zaki

They will come in useful I'm sure as I plan to do more posts on the politics of the Gulf States in the future. I have lots of interesting stories from my time in Dubai. I also had some interesting experiences in Qatar and Oman that are definitely worth sharing.

Thanks again