28 February 2008

Guns, Emirati Style 2

I spent a fair amount of time at the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club during a recent assignment to the UAE. I found there were three basic categories of shooters. First was the serious shooter. This was either a civilian enthusiast or a policeman who wanted to improve their hand eye coordination. Second was the young stud (always an expat) who would bring their girlfriend (also an expat) to shoot, probably in the hope that the excitement of holding something warm and powerful in her hand would lead to something sexual. And finally there was the Emirati thrill seeker who wanted to shoot the .357 magnum. He typically couldn't hit the back wall but it made a big noise and had a big recoil. After 25 rounds, his hand hurt so bad that he went home. The .357 will soon be retired as the UAE police have decided that no private gun club can have anything larger than 9mm.

The club is sponsored by an international oil company. I was surprised to see its logo prominently displayed on the firing line. The photo above was taken from the club web site. If you go there now, this photo has been removed. I guess the image of their logo juxtaosed with Arabs with guns was not PC.

23 February 2008

How dare they, the hooligans

Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia have begun investigating 57 young men who were arrested on Thursday for flirting with girls at shopping centres in Mecca. The men are accused of wearing indecent clothes, playing loud music, and dancing in order to attract the attention of girls, the Saudi Gazette reported. They were arrested following a request of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The mutaween enforce Saudi Arabia’s conservative brand of Islam, Wahhabism.
Earlier in the month, the authorities enforced a ban on the sale of red roses and other symbols used in many countries to mark Valentine’s Day. The ban is partly because of the connection with a “pagan Christian holiday”, and also because the festival itself is seen as encouraging relations between the sexes outside marriage, punishable by law in the kingdom.
The Prosecution and Investigation Commission said it had received reports of 'bad' behaviour by 57 young men at a number of shopping centres in the holy city of Mecca, the Saudi Gazette said.

19 February 2008

Grooverider in al Slammer

BBC 1 DJ "Grooverider", aka Raymond Bingham, has been sentenced to 4 years in Dubai Jail for possessing marijuana. He was arrested last November as he entered Dubai to start a new nightclub. They found a little over 2 grams of Marijuana in his baggage. (This is less than 0.1 oz)

According to the British Foreign Office, 64 Brits have been jailed in the past 12 months for violating Dubai's drug laws.

Guns, emirati style

Gotta love boys playing with guns, even ones too weak and/or incompetent to handle them... (Though the last shooter, who's not even the biggest guy in the video, doesn't have a problem with it.)

18 February 2008

Expats Pay, Emiratis Play

DEWA (Dubai Electric and Water Authority) has announced they will raise rates on heavy consumers of water and electricity as a means to encourage conservation. (DEWA is that series of smoky stacks you can see between Jumeirah Beach and Jebel Ali Port)

The twist is that this rate increase does not apply to Emiratis. And one can assume it won't apply to the hundreds of miles of irrigation tubing needed to keep green spaces green. Sheikh Mo is green, as long as he doesn't have to suffer any privations.

I see this as the first canary to fall and is an indicator that the infrastructure cannot handle the exponential growth in construction that is taking place. Nature may abhore a vacuum, but she allows abhors exponential growth. The dream is starting to implode.

15 February 2008

Woman to be Executed for Witchcraft

No, this is not a newspaper headline from Salem, Massachessetts in 1692. The Human Rights Watch is appealing to Saudi king Abdullah to commute the sentence of a woman convicted of witchcraft in a Sharia Court. Like the Salem trials, she was convicted based upon a confession that was extracted under "duress". Her crime, by the way, was causing impotence in a man.

14 February 2008

Happy Valentines Day - from Dubai

While Saudi, Kuwait, Indonesia and other Muslim countries are trying to stifle the celebration of Valentines Day by forbidding the sale of red roses and calling out the morality police in force, another Muslim country has no problem making a buck from it.

Dubai is trans-shipping 40 tons of fresh flowers for the holiday. Dubai is using high tech thermal blankets and computer controls to keep temperatures within the flower shipping containers within a tolerance of 1 degree in the heat of the desert sun while they are underway to the end user. So, the chances are that the flowers you give to your significant other found their way to her through the grace of Allah, even though he would disapprove of any Public Displays of Personal Affection they might initiate.

13 February 2008

Head Count

Saudi Arabia executed a convicted murderer last week bringing the total number of executions so far in 2008 to 25.

A total of 153 executions were carried out in 2007.

11 February 2008

Message from Bert Tatham

Bert Tatham is the Canadian who was detained in Dubai last year for drug possession. Here is a message he wrote on his web site: http://freebert.ca/

Bert Tatham
January 28th, 2008 at 4:32 pm
Hello My Fellow FreeBert’ers!
It is I, Bert Tatham. I have been free now for about a month, and and have been keeping a very low profile - other than to chat on Nat’l radio(!) . I did not read a single piece of news about my case because I didn’t think it was healthy to read a lot of press about yourself, especially when you are feeling fragile.
In fact, this is the first time that I have even visited this site (thanks Jeremy) and I am humbled and gratified by all the warm sentiments I found here, beyond words. I would like to thank you all for your concern and countless efforts to secure my release.
For those of my friends that have not yet heard from me, please be patient; I’m just starting to come out of my shell!
I thought you might all be interested to read my experiences and thoughts on why I was not released when I should have been, in last September’s Ramadan Pardon… A little scoop for you all if you haven’t already heard it..
On August 1st, 2007, I and my entire cellblock were systematically beaten and terrorised by riot police with batons and guard dogs for absolutely no reason. What an experience. The results were numerous inmates injured (broken ribs, ankles, and one case of a broken back), and virtually all living in a state of fear of the riot squad’s return, which was promised by the acting warden at the time. I was also told by several ‘lifers’ that this was a regualr occurence in the Dubai Prison System, and that usually the results were much worse. I was also told that complaints from Arab inmates about this treatment always fall on deaf ears…
I felt morally obliated to do something towards not having this abuse occur again. I recounted the entire incident in writing, and had it smuggled out of the prison by a friend, and it was distributed to the Canadian Consulate, several European consulates, the Canadian Dept. of Foreign Affairs, and my family.
Several weeks later I was interviewed by the Dubai Police “Human Rights” personnel concerning this incident retold the story. I waited in line with dozen of other prisoners (all Arab or Persian) and watched virtually all of them justifiably lose their nerve and deny to the investigators that the event had taken place. This only made me feel more responsible to use my priviledged position as a Canadian to fight this abuse.
Two weeks later, I testified under oath to the Attorney General’s office on the events that occurred on August 1st.
In the time between these two interviews, I was called in to the Warden’s office and harrassed for over an hour about what I told the HR investigators. My only response was that it was none of his business and he should know better than to be asking. He threatened that he could make my life even more difficult, and ‘extend my stay’ if I did not cease and desist.
When the News of our release came during Ramadan, I was partially ‘processed out’ (Passport located, bagage collected, etc.) before the Warden sent a note to me via his deputy that I would not be released. Despite this special treatment, the Dubai Police, Prosecutor’s office, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs all denied that I was being ’singled out’. Ludicrous subterfuge by all the powers involved then ensued….
All prisoners in the entire system with the same charges as mine were released over the next couple of weeks. It is clear that I was singled out for my actions in fighting prisoner abuse. I firmly believe that my government was fully aware of this corrupt behavior as well, but drew lines that it would not cross to secure my release from this hostage situation.
Ultimately, the Warden and 20 guards were jailed (very briefly) and deported. The beatings did not occur again. I do not regret my actions at all. I do regret the impact that it had on my loved ones by extending my stay, and I do regret the anemic response displayed by my government (lots of diplomatic activity, none of it meaningful) to rectify the situation.
My thoughts on Dubai: I’ve been through there no less than nine times, and I have never liked the place. It has always seemed to me to be a place where image rules with an iron fist over reality. The press is a joke and is nothing more than a “Sheik Maktoum Fan Club” newsletter. It touts itself as a centre for global high finance and tourism, yet it is a notorious hub for both terrorism funding and drug money laundering, and lucky tourists can be arrested for taking a photo on the beaches when not in their lodgings being harrassed by hundreds of smuggled prostitutes. I could go on at great length, but that would be sour grapes…
But I’m home, safe, and healthy. I can’t say I am ‘over it’ by any stretch, but it could be much worse.
Next time I’ll be a little more careful packing.
I am still considering a longer story for whoever is willing to publish it, but I always return to the question of “what would I be trying to get out of it?”. The reason for being ensnared in all this was my own carelessness and I have caused my loved ones great suffering, so maybe I should not aim to capitalise on the experience.
I will be based in Vancouver again, and have a lot of work to do in re-establishing contact with numerous friends and colleagues, recovering money still owed to me for last year’s work, and getting my career back on track. Something tells me it might not involve Counternarcotics work in Kandahar, though I do miss Afghanistan very much…
OK I am rambling. Thanks so very much again for all your kind words and efforts. I wish you all the very best for 2008.
Much Love,

08 February 2008

As I Said, You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

More warnings to travellers to Dubai about this little Emirate's assinine drug enforcement policy. A tourist has been sentenced to 4 years for having a microscopic (0.003 gram) bit of cannabis on the tread of his shoe. Keith Brown was stopped while in transit from Ethiopia to London. Given that cannabis is a common weed, it is hard to follow the legal argument that having a piece smaller than a grain of suger, that could have been picked up anywhere, constitutes possession, but Dubai is a land where western logic is non-existant.

For a list of banned substances in the UAE, click here.

Dubai promotes itself as a land of tourism. They are basing their future economy on tourists and western business. They brag about Islamic hospitality. But who can feel welcome given the restrictions they place upon visitors. I say spend your travel dollars someplace else and let them eat sand.

07 February 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

This story is too crazy to not be true. A Yemeni entrepeneur was recently arrested in Dubai for trying to sell a "bullet proof stone" for the tidy sum of US $140,000,000. This stone is supposed to protect the wearer from bullets. As proof that no issue is too far out for some lawyers, his lawyer happens to be the same guy that argued the appeal for the convicted rapist in the story below.

The Yemeni claims to have tried it out on a sheep - successfully. I have spent many hours and expended many rounds at the Sharjah Shooting Club, and if the marksmanship displayed there by Emeratis is any indication, it is more likely he missed the critter than bullets bounced off of it.

Of course, the quick way to end the argument is have the Yemeni gentleman wear his stone and let the police test the efficacy of the talisman.

Meanwhile, over in Saudi, the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (religious police or mutaween) arrested an 37 year old American businesswoman and mother of three, strip searched her, jailed her and forced her to sign a confession for the onerous crime of sitting at the same table with a male colleage at Starbucks.

06 February 2008

Boycott Dubai Redux

If you were following the news last year, you will remember the story of the 15 year old French boy who was raped in Dubai. The locals tried to shine it on, but his mother was a jounalist and brought world wide attention to her son's predicament and Dubai's legal system. The perps were convicted and sentenced to 15 years. She has since brought down the web site but she may want to open it up again.

In recent news, the lawyer for one of the perps is appealing his client's sentence arguing that his client, who has AIDS and hepatitis, could not have raped the boy because the young man has not contracted either disease.

With logic like that, why bother with a legal system at all.