Here's Madonna performing in Abu Dhabi. She put on shows Sunday and Monday night and came on very late both nights. On Sunday night, fans greeted her with boos and catcalls because it was stinking hot at the outdoor venue and they were not amused by the 90-minute delay. Despite the surly crowd, she apparently put on a spectacular show. I'm told that her first song was in HEBREW and that she spewed profanities during the entire show. A common ex-pat would be thrown in jail for years for that kind of public behavior. As usual, Madonna has nothing to do with the hunger striker below.
I'm writing about Zack because Alan Miller, the managing editor of the Columbus Dispatch, sent me an email a few weeks ago asking me if I knew anything about the case of a Columbus, Ohio guy who was on a hunger strike in the Dubai jail. I was embarrassed to reply that I had never heard of him.
But Alan's email contained a link to the "Save Zack Shahin" site http://www.freezack.com/ and that prompted me to contact his attorneys in the U.S. Since then, I've interviewed the attorneys and Zack himself. Oddly, the authorities at the Dubai jail let Zack call anyone he wants from his cellphone so Zack has been giving interviews to anyone who wants to talk to him. Zack and I had nice chat Wednesday afternoon.
Zack's case is interesting because he has been held in jail here in the United Arab Emirates for four years without being granted bail or brought to trial. He is accused of stealing lots of money from a development company called Deyaar. He was arrested along with other businessmen in 2008 when the Dubai construction bubble burst in spectacular fashion.
I have no idea if Zack stole any money. He and his attorneys say two auditing firms have scoured the books and declared they were in order. But his guilt or innocence is not the point. Dubai authorities don't like Zack and have used the dysfunctional legal system here to punish him. There's no question about that.
"Three years ago I went public about my case and all hell broke loose," Zack said.
Since he's been in prison, he's had 220 court appearances; 200 of them lasted less than three minutes. So, he's now on a hunger strike.
"I'm doomed. I would rather go home in a box than continue to bang my head against this wall," said Zack, who has a wife and two daughters are living in Houston.
What's most interesting about the case now is the strategy he and his attorneys are employing after four years of futile legal efforts in Dubai. Now, they are pressing the U.S. government to force the UAE to present its case and put Zack on trial. This quote from one of the legal team's emails sums up the argument.
"Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton has the moral authority to publicly demand a country follows the rule of law and affords defendants due process rights. She has publicly spoken out in support of Ukrainian politicians, Chinese dissidents, and Russian oligarchs.
"Now is the time for Secretary Clinton to support a U.S. citizen in need. Secretary Clinton, do not allow your legacy to be tarnished with the death of a U.S. citizen languishing for four years without bail, trial, or conviction in a Dubai prison cell – publicly demand that UAE authorities grant Zack Shahin immediate and reasonable bail.”
This has got to be a real hemorrhoid for the State Department. It's easy to piss on the Ukraine for mistreating Yulia Tymoshenko (the pretty former prime minister with the fabulous braided blonde hair), but it's an entirely different matter to pressure the UAE.
The UAE sells us lots of oil and then buys billions of dollars of our weapons with that oil money. It's a lucrative arrangement. Further, we and the UAE are both terrified of Iran and have considerable "mutual strategic interests."
This is not an alliance you want to ruin over some American citizen who may or may not have played funny with some Arab money.
Zack and his attorneys have raised a legitimate moral issue. It will be interesting to see if our diplomats can get justice for one of its citizens while keeping a prickly ally happy.
And get it done before Zack goes home in a box.