Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Like medicine... you need them, but they often leave a bad taste. I have unfortunately had more encounters with the police in the UAE than I would have liked. There were cases that involved close friends or associates as well as me directly.

The overwhelming feeling one gets is that you want nothing to do with them. Yet, of course, they serve an essential role in the community and society and certainly in their absence things would be far worse.

Today was my latest encounter with the police, and I must admit it was less threatening than usual. It involved a friend, who wrecked my car--no fault of his own it seems--requiring the submission of a passport in order to be released. What bothers me about this kind of incident is that you have someone traumatized (fortunately uninjured) being forced to remain against his will in a police station until someone comes and hands over a passport. The accident occured at 1 a.m. and I couldn't come to my friend's aid until 8 a.m. Were it not for me he would have had to wait unitl evening before his employer could bring over his passport. What kind of treatment is this for a person traumatized by a serious accident?

But the manners of the police officials I encountered today were cordial and buisinesslike, as opposed to suspicious and disrespectful--as had sometimes been the case in the past.

An American

There was also an earlier incident involving a collegue who showed up on the job (a UAE military base) intoxicated, with contraband in tow (a sports bag containing 6 cans of beer--3 full, 2 empty and 1 open, with contents spilling out). After fighting with the boss (a major) he was escorted to a civillian police post--sports bag sitll in tow. His treatment under the circumstances was more than humane. He was never locked up but instead placed in an un-used office-room with a computer, no less.

The computer required a password to operate, but the point is, he was treated better in fact than he deserved. By evening, apparently at the request of military officials, he was released, passport and all.

My colleague was American--but with absolutly no wasta per se. (I can vouch for this.) Still, some will say that a certain amount of favoratism was shown.

A Sri Lankan

Not so with a Sri Lankan friend in 2001. This was my first encounter with the local police and it really put them and the whole justice system in a bad light for me. To make a long story short, friend was picked up for questioning in a suspected theft case. He had not been pointed out as a suspect, but simply named as someone who had been on the premises of where the theft had occured. Nevertheless, he was suddenly taken in as a suspect and eventually incarcerated for 6 weeks. As there was no evidence in the theft case against him the police charged and convicted him of working on a visit visa--in fact, he had once cleaned the apartment of the man who reported the theft.

Two of several things which bothered me about the whole incident was that 1) upon my friends eventual deportation, his passport was stamped with an order never to be allowed to enter the UAE again, and 2) had it not been for my mostly hapless intervention--that of running from pillar to post to find out where he was and what was going on--my friend could have easily remained incarcerated for months. All of this, because the police decided to finger him as a suspect.

The Verdict

It is this overwhelming, almost extra-judicial power that they wield that bothers me about the police. One day you can be merrily enjoying your days and the next, if for whatever reason you get fingered by them, you can have taken from you the freedom to even choose when to go to the bathroom.

I have more anecdotes, but I've probalby reached the limit of my quota of words, for today's word of the day.

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Anonymous said...

Just one thing, it's always easier to deal with the police if you are arabic speaking or have somebody who speaks arabic with you. It is difficult when somebody accuses you of something and he/she explains to the police in arabic while you remain quiet and clueless on what they are talking about.

BD said...

You sound as though you've had some experience. That is exactly what happens. The friend, who wrecked my car, whose case is still in limbo, stood in front of the prosecutor while he and the Arab national driver argued back and forth. During the whole thing he was never even acknowledged by the prosecutor and finally told to leave by some officer who told him to stop blocking the way.

The legal system is to put it kindly, very unfriendly in this country, unless you speak Arabic. So what that 70% of the residents in the country don't speak the language!