The rise of Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi through the ranks of the Interior Ministry in Abu Dhabi is associated with the transformation of the UAE into a high-tech surveillance state.
His personal accomplishments include a Diploma in Police Management from the University of Cambridge, a Doctorate in Police, Safety and Community Safety from London Metropolitan University and a Medal of Honor from Italy.
Now, in a great soft power victory for the UAE and its attempt to legitimize its policing methods internationally, he has been elected president of the world police organization Interpol – much to the dismay of human rights defenders .
Often pictured smiling, Raisi is the long-time Inspector General of the Interior Ministry, responsible for monitoring detention centers and the police. Several former detainees accuse him of having used this position to give the green light to abuses, including torture.
“Raisi’s rise to the presidency of Interpol legitimizes the role and conduct of security forces in the United Arab Emirates,” said Matthew Hedges, a British scholar and UAE expert who was held there for seven months on espionage charges . Hedges, who was eventually pardoned, says Raisi was responsible for his arrest and also oversaw the torture he says he suffered in detention.
“This translates into a green light for states to continue to act in a way that abuses responsibility and human rights, legitimizes the dilution of the rule of law and emboldens authoritarian detention systems and abusive, ”Hedges said. “It really is a warning to the international community that cross-border abuse can and will happen. “
The Gulf State has previously said Hedges suffered no physical or psychological abuse while in detention. On Thursday, his Home Office called Raisi’s victory “recognition of the UAE’s vital role in the world.”
“The United Arab Emirates,” he said, “are now at the head of this international organization working in the fields of security and police and will do their best to make the world a safer place.”
In an exceptionally public campaign for the role, Raisi bragged about technological transformations that have reshaped policing and surveillance in the UAE. These included the introduction of iris and facial scanning technology, and the establishment of the Interior Ministry’s first “Happiness Directorate”.
His changes in the national police force strengthen Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s status as two of the most heavily guarded cities in the world. One system, called the Falcon Eye, deploys thousands of cameras to monitor not only traffic violations, but also “behavioral issues like public hygiene and incidents like people congregating in areas where they are are not allowed to do so, ”according to a report by state news agency WAM. .
The increase in surveillance has been accompanied by a crackdown on internal criticism and dissent. Human Rights Watch said: “The government’s pervasive domestic surveillance has led to widespread self-censorship by UAE residents and UAE-based institutions; and government obstruction, censorship and possible surveillance of the media.
Abdullah Alaoudh, of the Washington DC Democracy for the Arab World Now organization, said the UAE is applying a two-pronged approach embodied in Raisi’s victory at Interpol: “Crudely suppress all dissenting voices, while investing in public relations such as lobbying, soft power, sports and entertainment.
Christopher M Davidson, author of a book on the art of governing in the Middle East, described Raisi as an example of “high performing technocratic members of political society in the United Arab Emirates” who enjoyed success under the Crown Prince. Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“The key to Mohammed bin Zayed’s regime has been to get things done, to eradicate corruption. Despite all the criticism leveled at the UAE and Abu Dhabi today, it is a much less corrupt place than it was 15 years ago. These are the people responsible for cleaning up departments, ”Davidson said.
Eradicating corruption has sometimes included arresting the rich and critics. Khadem al-Qubaisi, a former adviser to the royal family and a businessman who called himself a “scapegoat” for the Abu Dhabi authorities for embezzling millions of dollars, is being held in Al Wathba prison. The prison, supervised by Raisi, also houses human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor.
Riyaadh Ebrahim, who spent more than a year in prison, said he witnessed torture. “There are abusive imprisonments, no application of the rule of law. People are being persecuted for crimes they did not commit, ”Ebrahim said. He said he was “totally appalled” by Raisi’s victory in the Interpol election race.
Davidson said the UAE was using its wealth and resources to buy shortcuts of reputation on the international stage.
“The police in the UAE still have their problems, but it’s a way of telling the world that [they] are credible and respectable, ”he said. “Obtaining the presidency of Interpol symbolizes moving in the right direction.
Jalel Harchaoui of the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime said Raisi’s election highlighted the struggle between liberal and illiberal nations within international institutions such as Interpol, and was a victory for the anti-democratic countries.
“At first glance, Abu Dhabi – thanks to an excellent reach of soft power – presents itself as a modern state, which happens to be a reliable friend of all the great western democracies,” he said. “In reality, however, the Emiratis, whose style of governance was in part inspired by China’s strict form of authoritarianism, still campaign against liberalism and its key tenets. “
A spokesperson for the United Arab Emirates embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.