The internal security of the United Arab Emirates: a priority

National security is an issue of the utmost importance in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Along with the 10 billion dollars that the country expects to invest in this sector over the next ten years, the UAE is also strengthening the agreements and cooperative measures that it has set up with many countries regarding security.

The market for internal security in the Middle East is constantly expanding, as testified by a 12% increase in 2012 that brought the budget up to 16 billion Euros. In this region, State internal security segments reached 5.8 billion Euros in 2012, marking a 18% increase. The share of internal security expenditure in relation to the rest of the security market (e.g. private security, fire and electronic security, etc.) is of 36% in the Middle East, almost double its counterpart European statistic.

The region is indeed a filed for huge projects (protection of borders, petrol fields, or strategic buildings) due to frequent terrorist threats and an extremely dynamic economic development that is concretized through the creation of modern infrastructure. Such situations call for extremely sophisticated and innovative technological solutions. “American and European security groups are very well rooted in the Middle East, and local operators are witness a strong and steady increase” asserts the ‘En Toute Sécurité’ newspaper.

Significant future investments

The UAE, a big buyer in the market, plans to invest at least 10 billion dollars in 10 years for internal security purposes. In its annual report of 2013-2014, the administrative board of the department of international trade of the US department of commerce noted that the United Arab Emirates are to double their internal security expenses from 5.5 billion dollars to over 10 billion dollars during the course of the 10 coming years.

Furthermore, the study showed that airport security spending are estimated to reach 57.7 million dollars in 2015 in order to encourage an increase of investment in terms of internal security, economic development, and fast demographic increase, all of which would help reduce both regional unrest and the growing complexity of potential threats. the UAE is also hosting an increasing number of security-related events. Last April alone witnessed several events being held including the internal exhibition of security and national resilience, the exhibition on fire and rescue in the Middle East, and the exhibition on operational health and safety in the Middle East.

Major General Staff Dr Obeid Al Kutbi, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Abu Dhabi Police and Chairman of the Higher Organizing Committee for the International Exhibition of Security and National Resilience notes that internal security is a priority for the UAE in light of the social and economic growth that the country is experiencing.

The federation ranks among the world’s leading producers of petroleum products, and its GNP totaled 387 billion dollars in 2013, which amounted to a per capita GNP of some 43,000 dollars – to wit, the equivalent of the figures for France. In particular, Abu Dhabi has begun preparing for the post-oil era through a development model that is based on industry, high technology, and tourism. The “world city” of Dubai, in which 92% of the population is made up of foreign residents, with 200 different nationalities, is developing through a combination of high-level infrastructures, in particular air and sea ports, and high quality commerce and services, in order to best utilize it’s favorable geographic location between Europe and Asia to reinforce its role as a regional platform for trade and for the implantation of foreign businesses with operations in the Middle East. Following the 2009 financial crisis, Dubai rapidly recovered a positive GNP growth rate, which rose to 3.4% in 2011. UAE diplomacy contributes to this development strategy by consolidating the country’s notoriety and by devoting considerable effort to positioning the Emirates as a pole for exchange and discussion through the regular organization of high-level summit meetings and international conferences; as well as through the integration of new international forums. The organization of the 2020 World Fair in Dubai is one of the aspects of this effort.

Reinforced cooperative measures

To ensure their security in an unstable regional environment which includes powerful neighbor States whose intentions are occasionally perceived as threatening, the United Arab Emirates allied with western partners at the end of the Gulf War, through the signature of defense agreements with the United States, which was inevitable at the time but which now is regarded in hindsight, as well as with their historical and ever-present partner, Great Britain, with France, and more recently with Australia. Moreover, the UAE is committed to the role of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) at the regional level, even though it does not necessarily share all the opinions of Saudi Arabia and largely disapproves of Qatar’s foreign policy, especially with respect to Syria. Since the outset of the Arab revolutions, the Emirates’ leaders have become extremely concerned about political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose activities have been suspended in the country since 1994, are seen as the main threat to the Emirates’ stability and more generally to the survival of the Gulf monarchies, as well as an obstacle to country’s social development. Having avoided the turbulence that rocked the region after 2011, the UAE has transformed its resistance to the Muslim Brotherhood and to radical Islamic trends into the strategic axis of its foreign policy which aims at preventing the installation of an Islamic state in the nearby regions, in particular in Syria and in Egypt.

Cooperation in the defense sector is one of the keystones of the partnership between France and the UAE. Based on two classic elements, military cooperation and the supply of weapons, it has been intensified by the signature of a bilateral defense agreement reaffirming France’s support should there be an attack on the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the UAE, and by the decision to install a permanent military base in the Emirates, which was inaugurated in 2009. Given the nature and the number of its collaborative activities, France is the UAE’s second largest partner in the defense sector. These activities are highly operational ones, particularly through the pre-positioned dispositions of the French Military Settlement in the UAE (Implantation militaire française aux Émirats arabes unis – IMFEAU) which is composed of some 720 military personnel and three separate implantations: a naval base, a land base and an air base. Moreover, for many years, the Emirates have used a considerable amount of French equipment in their air force (Mirage 2000-9) and land forces (Leclerc tanks, artillery) as well is in the telecommunications field. In fact, the United Arab Emirates finally implemented the Falcon Eye contract at the end of 2014. Airbus Defense & Space and Thales Alenia Space are thus commissioned to build two high-performance Earth observation satellites. The contract is evaluated at 700 million Euros.

National security: a priority with many challenges

Situated in a sensitive region, the United Arab Emirates is deeply concerned about radical Islamism and remains extremely vigilant in the prevention of terrorist attacks. In fact, Dubai Airport is the world’s second largest in terms of passenger volume and the city is the eighth most visited in the world. The presence of Islamic extremists within the UAE has been publicly mentioned; since the end of 2012, there have been rumors of dismantled Al-Qaeda groups; individuals suspected of belonging to the “Al Islah” movement, a local spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood, are said to have been arrested; and radical Muslims have recently gone on trial. The Emirates consider the prevention of drug trafficking to be another major priority and apply a zero tolerance attitude towards this offense. Simply using drugs entails an automatic four-year prison sentence and drug trafficking is punished by the death penalty. Organized crime, of which there is very little in the UAE, is essentially found in the form of economic and financial crime that uses the UAE as a platform for money laundering and complex fraudulent operations. As for human trafficking per se, it does not seem to be in the hands of organized criminal groups, at least as far as transporting illegal immigrants (mainly from the Indian sub-continent) to Europe is concerned. Locally, illegal immigrants are part of the daily scene. The prevention of illegal immigration is nevertheless considered as an objective by the UAE, in particular given the regular increase in the number of passengers transiting through Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE wants to maintain a high level of security in the country and would like to become more familiar with the methods and techniques employed by the foreign institutions whose expertise is well-known, but also wants to remediate the weaknesses in its own police force. To reach these goals, the UAE authorities have signed several bilateral national security agreements, notably with Germany in 2005, with Great-Britain in 2006, and with the Netherlands and France in 2009. The latter has just been approved by France and validated by the French Parliament.

France’s implication in this agreement represents a constantly evolving technical cooperation that does not exclude any field of expertise; however, operational cooperation with the UAE authorities remains tenuous even though occasional information exchange does occur between certain departments. In terms of technical cooperation, 51 activities were carried out in 2013, mainly in the area of the prevention of terrorist activities and counter-terrorism interventions, but also in the realm of the judicial police and in the fight against organized crime: drug trafficking, cyber-criminality and the printing of counterfeit money; the prevention of illegal immigration; crowd management; airport emergency management; and civil safety. These same activities were also carried out in 2014. 

Constantly evolving exchanges

On the French side, the internal security services (ISS) in the UAE consist of the deputy head of internal security (DHIS), who is presently a police chief inspector, and a police assistant. The ISS is therefore under the authority of the Office of International Cooperation (OIC). “The DHIS of the OIC are the representatives of the Ministry of the Interior to the ambassador and the authorities of the country or countries they are appointed to and in which they are competent. The DHIS is thus both an advisor and an expert who represents all the instances of the Ministry to the diplomatic official as well as being the contact for the local authorities in charge of security. He is also a supervisor and facilitator…” said Emile Pérez, director of international cooperation. Thus, in the UAE, the ISS performs the technical, operational and institutional cooperation activities pertaining to national security, in collaboration with the various partners from the seven emirates in the UAE. He also advises the ambassador in matters of security, whether they concern French interests in general or those of the French community, and represents and defends French commercial and industrial interests, particularly through the support of any procedures undertaken by companies in the security sector. “As soon as our DHIS are told of any needs expressed by the police services, the gendarmes, or the civil security services, or as soon as they are informed of the existence of public tenders, they promptly inform the OIC. Our partnership offices then transfer this information to all the companies that may be interested in these possibilities. Whereas many national companies are competing among themselves, we want to share this information in a general manner. That’s why we favor sharing this information to a business group… Our intervention must remain both general and fair so as to avoid interfering with healthy competition between our national firms,” said Emile Pérez, adding that “The OIC serves to promote French expertise and technology in the field of security and the prevention of crisis situations… The partnerships we have developed since 2008 have been based on two principles, in all transparence and coherence… For the past six years, we have endeavored to establish a network of trust. As far as possible, we are present to accompany the businesses who require assistance. There are things that we cannot do, and that we will never do. Open competition is essential and we would never interfere in any commercial discussions. In fine, the rules are simple and we work with national firms who are willing to respect them.”

On the Emirates’ side, the structure of the security forces counts for about 44,000 men. The Dubai police force has its own riot squads who are well-disciplined and well-trained, in particular in France. The UAE armed forces also have Special Forces who are competent to intervene in the same areas and are currently trained by the French SWAT teams. The federal police also coordinates its actions within the UAE in terms of the prevention of drug trafficking and is responsible for liaising with INTERPOL.

Thus, the know-how of the French operational teams, which is highly regarded and sought after, impacts in its own way the evolution of the export performance of our French enterprises. “Indeed, the savoir-faire of the French police forces and gendarmes, and also that of the civil security services, is recognized and sought by their foreign counterparts. Of course, our intention is not to turn these officials into commercial representatives but rather to create a favorable context for our businessmen through technical and operational exchanges, or even through collaborative projects,” said Bernard Refalo, Assistant General Delegate for Security of the GICAT (French land defense and security association).

The decline in French results on the international playing field can be explained not only by cyclical factors, but also by cultural ones. “It seems that French companies do not have the same capacity as other companies when it comes to approaching the international marketplace. There is a lack of international-level managerial skills and the managers of SME’s have difficulty grasping the linguistic and cultural dimensions or the specific nature of the international markets. There are a number of reasons. To these are added structural factors. High production costs, regulatory and fiscal limitations that lead French companies to relocate production to foreign countries, to which is added a critical size that is insufficient for any consideration of international expansion,” said Didier Lucas, general manager of the Choiseul Institute and author of Les Diplomates d’Entreprise.

The EAU market is booming, with tremendous needs and vast projects. This is a country in which French excellence has its place in a highly competitive context. Setting out to conquer these markets can prove to be highly profitable and actually going there is the only way to take advantage of the opportunities that are at hand. Presence, human relations and commitment are the three keys to success in the Gulf!