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
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A loyalist rebranded: will Ségolène Royal run again to be the French President?

The French press is speculating about Ségolène Royal replacing François Hollande as the Socialist candidate.

“I will lead you to other victories!” Ségolène Royal told the crowds gathered in front of the French Socialist party’s headquarters on 6 May 2007.

Many at the time mocked her for making such an odd statement, just after losing to Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election. But nearly ten years on, she might just be the candidate the French left needs to win the upcoming presidential election.

There is growing speculation that the current President François Hollande – who was Royal’s partner for 30 years and the father of her four children – will not be in a position to run again. His approval ratings are so low that a defeat in next May’s election is almost inevitable. His own party is starting to turn against him and he can now only count on a handful of faithful supporters.

Royal is among them. In the past, she probably would have jumped at the opportunity to stand for election again, but she has learned from her mistakes. The 63-year-old has very cleverly rebranded herself as a wise, hard-working leader, while retaining the popular touch and strong-willed character which led to her previous successes.

Royal has an impressive political CV. She became an MP in 1988 and was on several occasions appointed to ministerial positions in the 1990s. In 2004, she was elected President of the Poitou-Charentes region in western France. In 2006, Royal won the Socialist party’s primary by a landslide ahead of the presidential election.

She went on to fight a tough campaign against Sarkozy, with little support from high-ranking members of her party. She ended up losing but was the first woman to ever go through to the second round of a French presidential election.

After that, it all went downhill. She split up with Hollande and lost the election to be party leader in 2008. She was humiliated by only getting 6.95 per cent of the votes in the 2011 Socialist presidential primary. She hit an all-time low when in 2012 she stood as the Socialist party’s official candidate to become MP for La Rochelle on the French west coast and lost to Olivier Falorni, a local candidate and Socialist party “dissident”. Royal then took a step back, away from the Parisian hustle and bustle. She continued to serve as the Poitou-Charentes regional President but kept largely out of the media eye.

Royal was very much the people’s candidate back in 2007. She drew her legitimacy from the primary result, which confirmed her huge popularity in opinion polls. She innovated by holding meetings where she would spend hours listening to people to build a collaborative manifesto: it was what she called participatory democracy. She shocked historical party figures by having La Marseillaise sung at campaign rallies and Tricolores flying; a tradition up until then reserved for right-wing rallies. She thought she would win the presidency because the people wanted her to, and did not take enough notice of those within her own party plotting her defeat.

Since then, Royal has cleverly rebranded herself – unlike Sarkozy, who has so far failed to convince the French he has changed.

When two years ago she was appointed environment minister, one of the highest-ranking cabinet positions, she kept her head down and worked hard to get an important bill on “energy transition” through Parliament. She can also be credited with the recent success of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Above all, she has been impeccably loyal to the President.

Royal has reinforced her political aura, by appearing at Hollande’s side for state occasions, to the extent that French press have even labelled her “the Vice-President”. This has given her a licence to openly contradict the Prime Minister Manuel Valls on various environmental issues, always cleverly placing herself on virtue’s side. In doing so, not only has she gained excellent approval ratings but she has pleased the Green party, a traditional ally for the Socialists that has recently turned its back on Hollande.

The hard work seems to have paid off. Last Sunday, Le Journal du Dimanche’s front-page story was on Royal and the hypothesis that she might stand if Hollande does not. She has dismissed the speculations, saying she found them amusing.

Whatever she is really thinking or planning, she has learned from past errors and knows that the French do not want leaders who appear to be primarily concerned with their own political fate. She warned last Sunday that, “for now, François Hollande is the candidate”. For now.

Philip Kyle is a French and English freelance journalist.