I must warn if you this is a disturbing story. This instance that I am about to illustrate has been filling the pits of my stomach with utter disgust for days. I felt that writing this would help draw out the emotional vomit that my heart has been lingering in. I’m publishing this under anonymous, because talking about things of this nature generally don’t end well for writers within the borders of the United Arab Emirates, or in the Gulf states of the Middle East. The names have been changed but it breaks my heart to say this story is real, and we do in fact live in a world like this. I felt the need to write.
I lived in Dubai for many years. It was a dazzling city. With a lit up skyline filled with the names of every relevant designer in the fashion industry, every kind of restaurant you could desire, streets lined with the world most expensive cars, crystal blue beaches, and copious amounts of champagne in night clubs with French names. But it was very much a town about money. How much you have? How much your parents have? How much do you want? John Stewart has described it fabulously and realistically as a combination of Las Vegas meets Saudi Arabia. It is a beautiful place where money is the sovereign king, and unless you have an excess of money you will not be getting any respect.
Beware, though if you intend to visit this seemingly magical wonderland in the Middle East. They say the devil doesn’t come to you in a red cape and horns, he comes disguised as everything you ever wanted.
I met up with a friend from my days in Dubai living three days ago to catch up over coffee. I hadn’t seen her in half a decade. She looked the same. Dana’s hair was lighter, and she now had tattoos embellished on her chest, but she seemed to be the same bird like girl with wonder in her eyes. We talked about the same things you would discuss with old friends from your youth. We ranted about our former insecurities, our crushes, the weekends we got carried away, and the mistakes that made us who we are. Then she began to tell me something that was not an ordinary tale in the midst of our casual banter.
“What? You didn’t hear about Natasha’s dad?” she said with her eyes aghast.
“No, I never heard anything about it. Is she doing alright?” I asked, still staring at the intensity in Dana’s eyes with confusion.
I vaguely remembered Natasha as curly haired girl with golden colored skin. She was a reserved girl who would always stare at me directly in the eyes. She would tell tales the illusive suitors in her life at only seventeen. She always seemed to command attention from the opposite sex without even speaking. She would nod whenever I spoke about my interests as if she had both a wave of admiration and judgment for them. Her eyes said that I was a child to her. I was too young emotionally to be kept in her company, but I could see she yearned for something I had. My anxious rush of inexperience that made everything a mystery defined me as an outsider to her world, but I was still an acquaintance by association.
“She’s pretty well for someone whose dad was murdered.”
“Excuse me.” I said almost choking on my latte.
Then she told me the story of how Natasha’s father passed away while her family was living in Dubai. Apparently he interacted in an automobile business agreement with some Syrian investors who ended up owing him funds. They continued to promise him the money they owed him. One day, they called him, and told him they finally had the funds ready at their house. When he met them there. They tied him up. They put him in the trunk of a car, and drove a few hours from the United Arab Emirates to Oman.
When they reached an empty vast desert plain in Oman, they burned the girl’s father alive. They burned him alive. Alive. They set him on fire. They left the body in the desert, and left a family without husband or father.
The people responsible for this are still living comfortably in Dubai without any disturbance from the authorities. Apparently they had friends in high places that allowed them to literally get away with murder, even with evidence, and witness accounts.
It’s called wasta, and it’s such a common word that you can Wikipedia it:
Wasta or Wasata (Arabic: واسْطة) is an Arabic word that loosely translates into Nepotism or ‘clout’ or ‘who you know’. It refers to using one’s connections and/or influence to get things done, including government transactions such as the quick renewal of a passport, waiving of traffic fines, and getting hired for or promoted in a job.
I wish this story was not true, but I just it disgusts me to say casually told the story of how an old friend of mines father was murdered. Natasha lives with her mother, has graduated college with a business degree, and continues to live her life past this event. They have accepted it. There are hundreds of stories like this among Dubai’s glittering walls: tales of murderers, pedophiles, and rapists all who don’t have to ever worry about ending their escapades, all because they are above the law. When you have wasta you are untouchable within the borders of the country, maybe even a little farther, extending the borders – with a call from your country’s embassy to the one you happened to commit a crime in.
This is why I will not live in Dubai again although it is a beautiful city. Unless, you are an Emirati citzen in a country outnumbered by expatriates, a diplomat, or perhaps a relative of the someone working within the ruling regime…..you or your family is not safe. The law works to protect the people who have full immunity from it, and serves to protect them from those seeking justice against them. It isn’t a matter of innocent and guilty. It’s a matter of connections, money, and ethnicity.
This is not a matter of a religion, the Quran itself says:
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor… (4:135)
I’m writing this as open letter to those who may stumble across perhaps by chance. Perhaps you are the son of a Sheikh. Perhaps you are the ruler of the country. If so, I beg you. I plead with you as a human being. To stop this game of connections that is ruining the UAE. Prosecute even your relatives and friends to the highest extent when they disobey the law, set an example. Reeducate the police force, and end the corruption within the morals of these officials. What if this was a story about your own father?
This is no criticism on your regime. It a criticism of the local police force, and a justice system that needs badly to be reconstructed. Let’s stop the construction of all this glitter, and rebuild something meaningful. The poet Rumi once wrote, “If you look too closely at the form, you miss the essence.” You have put us in awe with building the worlds tallest tower, and man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, and perhaps the most beautiful views of this earth. But is the price for the awe and wonder of eyes, the cost of living without humanity?