Home > Uncategorized > Tryst with the Dubai secret police

Tryst with the Dubai secret police

December 6, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Five guys in white come to my door, and I get a new iPod – so goes my cuz’s blog post

What happens when five guys come to your door wearing dishdash, the long, white robe local Emirati men favor, pressed neatly in fine fabrics with lovely cufflinks? I found out the day before Id. Followers of this blog know that I have been doing interviews for four months now on expats born and brought up in Dubai. Apparently, so did the secret police. And they decided to do something about that.

On October 22, 12 hours after my wife and 14-month-old son arrived, five guys in dishdash and one lady cop show up at my door with a court order to search and confiscate. The one lady cop means that they knew that my wife was there. That they showed up at my friend’s place, where I had only been staying for three days, and the fact that they showed up a little more than a day before I was taking a flight to India means, as a duty officer at the US consulate told my wife, that they were keeping very good tabs on me.

So these fellows come in, with a court order written in Arabic with a red seal stamped on top, take my laptop and iPod, backup CDs, written notes and printouts. They search the apartment fully. You must come with us. My wife says she and our son will come too. No. We will bring him back in half an hour. (Haraamis, lying the day before Id. Shame, shame.) Can I leave my mobile since my wife has no phone access where we are staying and doesn’t have a mobile? It is not allowed. Can I at least write down some phone numbers as she doesn’t know anyone here? Yes. I write two numbers then one of them huffs, “no more numbers!”

So off we go, in a Toyota Highlander 4×4 with the sport stripes and excessively tinted windows, to the main, massive police HQ in Deira. We approach from airport road, make a right to the side gate. Once through this gate, one of the secret fellows tells me, actually motions me, to put my head down. We wind up and up a ramp until we arrive at secret police HQ, an oasis of bougainvillea and other lovely hanging vines and plants. I’m taken to a room where the questioning begins.

My interrogators for the next 13 hours or so were two locals (this day for me was a bonanza of interactions with locals!) – one in his late 20s, skinny with jaundiced skin and no front teeth, one in his mid-late 30s, short and chubby with jowels like a chipmunk who claims to have studied in Russia. The latter played the role of good cop, while the former was bad cop. Apparently their secret police training consists of watching bad American cop movies. I immediately asked/demanded of good cop whether the US consulate was informed. He lied (haraamis!) and said they were. I know he lied because the US consul told me he was not informed.

The questioning was mostly a time pass. Bad cop started filling out a massive dossier form, which for the next nine hours both would write in Arabic details about my family’s migration history, my educational history from pre-KG to the PhD level, details about my work history, etc. Every now and then they would interject with the real questions: why did you come to Dubai? Who is funding you? Why are you asking so many questions? Why are you doing interviews? Why are you asking so many questions about locals? Who said you can come? Why did you come to Dubai?

I answered their questions slowly, calmly, not getting agitated. They didn’t like my answers. But my answers were irrelevant. Obviously they had already decided I was a nuisance or a threat and I had to go. But first it seemed they wanted some kind of admission of guilt from me, which I was not prepared to give. Maybe they should have resorted to physical violence to achieve their goals? I was a little annoyed they were not violent, did not even threaten violence. They were not even particularly rude. They never raised their voices. They gave me no cause to really be afraid. Mostly I was just bored. They could have at least been a little menacing, if just to ease the boredom.

While they were going over my data, the two cops shuttled back and forth to the interrogation room (an unused, quite nicely-sized room, though not fully furnished). They were coming from another room where I imagined a team of Emirati intelligence experts poring over my research materials alternately sending bad cop or good cop back with written questions to ask me. These were variants of the same questions above. And I would answer the same way. And they would not like the answers no matter how I paraphrased the answers to their paraphrased questions.

Now as for funding, I have a Fulbright fellowship, which is funded by the US government, and is handled through the US State Department (though they exert no pressure upon individual scholars). I don’t say this to boast, but to give a relevant detail. When I was swept up by the secret ones, my wife went into action, going to a nearby hotel to call the US consulate. When she told them how I was taken away by the men in white who didn’t show ID, and that I was a Fulbrighter, the ambassador apparently became “pissed off”. The ambassador and consul general were on the phone for over nine hours before they were able to locate me and arrange for my release. They are very protective of their Fulbrighters and don’t like it when they are picked up by secret police and held without charge and without their being notified. The secret higher ups told them I would be released by the end of the night.

It was around the time that the ambassador received my release guarantee that my interrogators stopped with their questions and left me locked in the room for over two hours. After which the chief came….

Read the remaining part of the event narration along with subsequent comments on Dubai Notes

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