Why is Britain rolling out the red carpet for the UAE's Sheikh Khalifa?

Three British citizens continue to be held under appalling conditions in the United Arab Emirates, while the Government prepares to host the country's unelected leader for a state visit.

On Tuesday next week, Britain will roll out the red carpet for the leader of a country which not only has a terrible record on human rights, but has even tortured our own citizens.

Sheikh Khalifa – the unelected President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – will be given the honour of a State Visit to the UK, while back in his country, three British citizens continue to be held over eight months after they were arrested and brutally tortured by police in Dubai.

The ordeal of the three young men – Grant Cameron (25), Karl Williams (26) and Suneet Jeerh (25) – included savage beatings resulting in broken bones, and electric shocks administered to the testicles from stun batons; after which they were forced to sign documents in Arabic, a language none of them understand. They were then charged with drugs offences, to which they have pleaded not guilty.

This took place against a wider context of rampant police torture and extensive fair trial violations in the UAE – notably in the ongoing mass trial of 94 political activists which has been condemned as “shamelessly unfair” by Human Rights Watch.

The three Brits – from London and Essex – are expecting the verdict in their case on Monday, the day before Sheikh Khalifa is set to arrive in Britain.  Their trial has proceeded despite the UAE’s failure to properly investigate their torture; in fact, the authorities in Dubai have even gone so far as to put the police officers who abused the men on the witness stand to testify against them.

Meanwhile, the UAE’s unrepentant attitude towards serious human rights violations is being allowed to pass without comment by our own political leaders.  William Hague enjoyed an “excellent meeting” earlier this week with the Prime Minister (again, unelected) of Dubai, but made no mention of torture or fair trial violations.  London Mayor Boris Johnson, on a visit earlier this month, praised a “historic relationship” but didn’t see fit to mention the torture of Londoners by Dubai authorities.

The FCO’s man in Dubai went so far as to hail the “special relationship” between the UK and the UAE  - indicating that the key characteristics of the UK’s ‘special relationships’ these days, whether with the US or the UAE, are a high tolerance for torture and an indifference to the rule of law.

In response to the impending state visit, a coalition of human rights organisations including Reprieve, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights have written to the British Prime Minister urging him to raise the issue of human rights abuses with the UAE President during his time in the UK.

A lot of the British public may already find it hard to stomach seeing the royal treatment given to the undemocratic leader of a country where the police torture prisoners and trials are a “mockery of justice”.  That we are doing so even when it is our fellow Brits on the receiving end of the electric baton will be seen as an act which abandons not only our principles, but also our responsibilities to our own citizens.

If anything positive is to come out of what is shaping up to be one of the more sordid state visits of recent years, torture and fair trial issues – and in particular the cases of the three British tourists – must be at the centre of every discussion at every level between Britain and the UAE.

Sheikh Khalifa in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
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United States of Emergency: will the North Carolina riots stain Obama's legacy?

The latest flare up of violence in the US is a reminder that the election of the first black president did not herald a new age of post-racial harmony.

Last April I travelled to Baltimore the morning after the Governor of Maryland had declared a state of emergency in the city, following riots that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Time had just published a poignant article comparing images of disorder on America's streets in 2015 with those 50 years earlier, during the struggles of the civil rights era. However, the scene that greeted my companion and I as we looped round the I-95 into the inner harbour looked more like photos we had seen of Helmand in 2001, or Mosul in 2003. Except this wasn't Baghdad, it was Baltimore – the birthplace of Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth and The Star Spangled Banner. And yet it was clearly a warzone, for how else could you explain the presence of 4,000 national guardsmen, either poking out of armoured vehicles or patrolling the streets with automatic weapons?

During the protests that have erupted in Charlotte, and elsewhere, following the shooting of yet another black man by the police, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has warned against this kind of violence becoming the “new normal”. As North Carolina governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency on Thursday morning, the horrible truth was that the normalcy of it all was plain to see. Such is the frequency with which riot police and even soldiers have been deployed on America's streets over the past few years, that the “United States of Emergency” would not seem like an inaccurate rebranding. Of course all of this civil disobedience plays into the hands of a Republican presidential candidate who is making the restoration of “law and order” one of the central tenets in his bid for power.

It is not hard to see the desperation on Obama's face as he reaches the denouement of his own tenure. While the 44th President's political legacy will be debated for years to come, it is now obvious that one thing it did not herald was a new era of post-racial harmony. America's obsession with symbolism almost willed him to the White House but as so often is the case with US politics: the higher the pretensions, the harder the fall. 

Charlotte doesn't represent anything particularly unique in this long struggle against police racism. It's just another place name to be added to Ferguson, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and dozens of others that could form a particularly grim tourist trail. The horrible truth is that as long as there have been black men in America – especially in places like Charlotte – they have always been unfairly targeted by police. For decades in the South these same forces were the “thin white line” promulgating a form of apartheid against the black majority. The difference now is that 21st century technology allows witnesses to capture and disseminate proof of this worldwide. The power of images to expose racial violence is unquestionable. The campaigner Mamie Till, mother of Emmett, knew this when she published photos of her son's mutilated corpse in 1955. As did George Holliday when he filmed Rodney King's beating in 1991.

There is a kind of despair when it comes to trying to find solutions to America's devastating gun and racial problems. Unfortunately neither presidential candidate seems to offer much hope of significant change. One is perceived as being in thrall to big business (of which the gun lobby represents a significant part) and the other, well, it is not hard to imagine Trump's glee at further proof of how “broken” and disorderly the country is under the Democrats. Both of their reactions to this latest incident have been muted. If either of them care at all about fixing this problem they need to take action and it needs to be drastic. The late comedian Robin Williams once quipped that in Britain the police shout: “Stop! Or I'll shout Stop again”. In America that first “stop” is all too often followed by a much louder sound.

The problem is that whenever a “taskforce” is created to fix the problem – such as Obama's 21st century policing initiative – its recommendations are always non-binding. On top of this is the fact that there are nearly 20,000 distinct police departments in the US representing a myriad of vested interests and demographic differences, and all adhering to slightly different codes of conduct. American police need to revert from a militarised occupying force to a pacific consensual one, perhaps by sending officers out unarmed. Unfortunately the likelihood of this happening with either a Trump, or even Clinton, presidency is sadly close to none. 

Alexis Self is a writer based in New York City.