and a case
THE Middle East is certainly producing some bizarre news stories. First the sickening Jamal Khashoggi case where a Saudi citizen walks into his country's consulate in Turkey to pick up some documents for his planned marriage, leaving his fiancee to wait outside.
But he doesn't emerge because a Saudi hit squad was waiting for him inside. After doing him in, they apparently dismembered his body, which has not been found. Not even Alfred Hitchcock could have dreamed this one up.
Then Matthew Hedges in the United Arab Emirates. He arrived to conduct research for a PhD, his subject being the "Arab Spring" of a few years ago. Somebody didn't like – or misunderstood – the questions he was asking various people and next thing he was locked up as a spy of MI6 – the British intelligence service. He was made to sign a document written in Arabic – which he doesn't understand – in which he apparently confesses to the charge.
Next a trial that lasted about five minutes and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage.
Nothing like as grisly and horrifying as the Khashoggi case but frightening enough for Hedges and his family.
Next a lengthy statement from a UAE official – broadcast live on the world TV channels – in which Hedges is castigated as a spy of the British government, a complete villain – but he has been pardoned and will soon be home.
All this is totally bizarre. The idea of MI6 spying on the UAE is like MI6 spying on itself. The Brits have a naval flotilla based in Dubai (as do the Americans) to patrol against piracy in the shipping lanes off Somalia. But they're also just across the water from Iran. The alliance between the Brits and the UAE (which used to be a British protectorate) could hardly be closer.
Yes, a misunderstanding, that's the only possible explanation. I've had a couple of stints in the UAE and it fits with the quirkiness of the place.
EMBLEMATIC of the close relationship between the Brits and the UAE is the Maritime Club in central Dubai (I think Prince Phillip is patron). This is very true-blue and old school. It is patronised by the Royal Navy and US Navy personnel. But they keep to themselves. Operational y'know.
One evening I was discussing with a fellow a Currie Cup match we'd watched on TV. One of the RN guys pricked up his ears.
"Are you from Natal?"
"Me too. I'm from the Bluff."
"Hey, rough and tough and from the Bluff."
"You've got it."
"What are you doing in the RN?"
"I'm a torpedoman."
"Where'd you train?"
WHO has eight guns and terrorises the ocean?
Billy the Squid.
A human being has a natural desire to have more of a good thing than he needs.