Sunday, 9 September 2018

Quick and Dirty: Abu Dhabi (Night's Black Agents)

Image of 1909 Abu Dhabi castle taken from Berlin Museum collection. 

Abu Dhabi

While there is archaeological evidence of previous settlement, going back as far as the 3rd Millenium BC, the city formally began its existence in the 16th Century. A nomadic group settled there on the freshwater spring at Abu Dhabi island. The name literally means Father of the Gazelle, and probably refers to the Dhabi gazelle that once was plentiful in the area. Depending on where you are, you either pronounce Abu as Bu (on the western coast of the city) or Abu (eastern section). 

The Al Nahyan, a branch of House Al-Falahi, were the first to settle at the spring and have since become the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Current male members of Al Nahyan number about 200, and as has been the custom for many years the identities of female members are not known. Their family has contributed government ministers and high officials to the UAE; Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the current head, chair of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Supreme Commander of the Union Defence Force, Emir of Abu Dhabi, and President of the UAE. Current estimates suggest the family is worth in excess of $150 billion.

For many years the city was best known for its pearl fishing, but in the 19th Century Britain increased its influence over the region, strengthening its hold once oil was discovered. This led to a partnership with BP which resulted in the discovery and development of the region's major oil fields. Even to this day relations between the UAE and Britain remain strong, though Britain formally withdrew from the region in 1968, a few years ahead of the founding of the UAE in 1971. Some Brexiteers lean heavily on this friendship as a prop for the Brexit argument, saying that withdrawal can lead to even closer ties with the UAE. 

This cuts both ways. For many decades wealthy UAE buyers have been snapping up British assets and property in London, and race their high-performance supercars through Mayfair, once Ramadan's over and done. This historically has led to some friction, but by and large the British are content to overlook the problem so long as money keeps rolling in.


1.8 million, just a little less than Houston, Texas.

The whole of the UAE is slightly smaller than Maine, with 6 million population. Dubai, the most populous city in the UAE, is home to over 3 million, which means that the citizens of these two cities make up more than 80% of the total population of the UAE.

When Abu Dhabi was originally planned out in the 1960s, it was only intended to house 40,000 people.

Immigrants make up more than 80% of the total population. South Asians are the largest immigrant group, including Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani workers. Arabic is the official language, but there's a significant number of English speakers as well as Hindi and Urdu.

Islam is the official religion. There's a very small scattering of Christians and other religious groups, including Hindu and Bhuddist.

Life expectancy is somewhere around 77 for males and over 80 for females.


The UAE cushioned itself against the 2010 outbreak of the Arab Spring by doing what it does best: throwing money at the problem. At the same time it began a vocal campaign for political reform in other Arab countries, though the UAE itself remains largely as it was before the Spring, from a political perspective. The UAE was also one of the first to join the coalition against ISIS. Intelligence sharing between the UAE and Western governments, particularly the US, has traditionally been strong.

It's not always smooth sailing. In 1999 the CIA was tipped that Osama Bin Laden was attending a falcon hunt in Pakistan, and among the honored gathering was Sheikh Kalifa bin Zayed al Nahayan himself, along with Sheikh Maktoum, leader of Dubai. The CIA debated whether assassinating Bin Laden, perhaps by missile strike, was worth the risk; it was doable, but when potential collateral damage includes a political ally and the heads of two of the royal families of the UAE, it takes considerable political will to pull the trigger. In the end, it was beyond the CIA.

Which is Abu Dhabi and the UAE in a nutshell. Allies, yes, but with a hard desert-dwelling Bedouin core and a love of the past combined with strong religious sentiment. Tradition comes first, and it's not unknown for UAE capitalists to stave off feelings of religious-inspired guilt by backing hard-core Islamic fundamentalist groups. In much the same spirit, Irish American groups once sent cash to the IRA; it meant they were involved in the struggle, even though they never saw the explosive results.

Explosive results of any sort are something the average citizen only sees on television. Abu Dhabi is by far the safest city on the planet. Assault, robbery and muggings are almost unknown. Cyber crime is increasing, with two out of five citizens falling victim - or about 800,000 of Abu Dhabi's 1.8 million. Terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi are almost unheard of, though there are exceptions. In 2014, a Romanian-American teacher of English, Ibolya Ryan, was stabbed to death by an attacker who later went on to try to plant a bomb at a doctor's house. The attacker was arrested and executed.

Capital punishment (by firing squad) has been meted out to citizens and foreign nationals. It is rare for women to suffer the ultimate penalty, but it has happened; the terrorist who killed Ibolya Ryan, Alaa Bader al-Hashemi, was one such. Death is the penalty for the following crimes: treason, espionage, murder, successfully inciting the suicide of a person afflicted with total lack of free will or reason, arson resulting in death, indecent assault resulting in death, importing nuclear substances/waste, adultery, apostacy, blasphemy, perjury which results in wrongful execution, rape, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, sodomy, homosexuality, drug trafficking, and joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Death penalty cases are often but not always commuted to life sentences.

The UAE is a founder member of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, contributing both troops and cash to the cause.

Terror attacks tend to be rare and extremely limited in scope. Abu Dhabi doesn't see anything like the constant bombings that rocked Kabul, and this is in part because it enjoys the protection of an extremely well-provided police force. Agents take note: these cops drive sportscars, so don't count on your wheel artist to save you when it all goes south. Abu Dhabi is rapidly deploying project Oyoon, blanketing the city with facial recognition cameras; the project should be complete within the next two years. Areas frequented by tourists will get top priority. In game terminology, any Heat-gaining activity increases Heat by 1 extra point, or 2 if the activity is overtly violent. Once Oyoon deploys, Heat gain may increase still further at the Director's discretion.


Image taken from

Ferrari World. Opened to the public in 2010, this is the world's only indoor race car theme park. Among its many attractions is the world's fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, one of five coasters at the park. As you might expect from a Ferrari-branded resort, the park is a petrolhead's idea of heaven, and naturally includes the opportunity to drive a Ferrari.

Image taken from

Sheikh Zayed Mosque. This is the third largest mosque in the world and the largest in the UAE, capable of holding up to 40,000 worshippers. It was finally completed in 2007, three years after the Sheikh's death, and is his final resting place. Its library and collection of artefacts is extensive and includes items of considerable antiquity. As the country's holiest site the UAE is sensitive about the mosque's image; both Selena Gomez and Rihanna have been criticized for taking pictures with the mosque in the background, because their poses (in Gomez's case, an ankle was showing) were considered provocative.

Image taken from

Emirates Palace. This hotel, completed in 2005, includes 22 residential suites, 92 suites, and 394 residences. It is the third most expensive hotel ever built, and second to none in terms of luxury. "Think about coffee," hotel GM Willy Optekamp told the New York Times. "We serve coffee on a silver tray with rose petals, crystallized sugar, a linen napkin, marzipan croissants, a bottle of imported water and the coffee. The ladies get a rose."  Costs range from $625 a night to $13,000. There are six ruler's suites on the top floor, to be used only by royalty travelling from other Persian Gulf countries. A special Arc de Triumph-style entrance is reserved for their motorcades. 

Three Hooks

A Conspiracy asset with a very interesting laptop is staying at the Emirates for a few days, to help facilitate a deal with minor royalty. The contents of that laptop could be absolutely invaluable - if the agents can somehow smuggle themselves into the hotel, get to the highly secure $13,000-a-night suite, and grab the laptop's contents without anybody realizing what's going on.

An IMCTC exercise 'accidentally' uncovered a Hellenistic-era archaeological site in the desert, not far from Abu Dhabi. Just how does a counter-terrorist organization manage to stumble across an archaeological site? Why have the artifacts been taken to a secure location in Abu Dhabi, to be kept under lock and key? 

One English expat, who may have been out in the sun too long, swears blind he once saw a facility in the desert devoted to growing Indian workers - or what he thinks were intended to look like Indian workers - from seeds, later to be shipped into Abu Dhabi in colorful decorated trucks. He's probably mental, but if anyone might be interested in growing people wholesale, it's the Conspiracy …

Thrilling Elements
  • Fast cars. Fast cars. Fast cars. The most expensive, tricked-out, high-tech vehicles congregate in Abu Dhabi like desert wanderers at an oasis.
  • A tourist is scolded by a citizen for indecent behavior, and clearly doesn't understand what's going on - the language barrier is a factor.
  • Heat and humidity smash you flat. Nothing can prepare a first-time visitor, and nothing can save them except air conditioning. 
  • An unexpected rain or windstorm blows through, temporarily clearing the streets and bringing some much-needed cool air.
  • Few cities are as pedestrian-unfriendly as Abu Dhabi. This is a city built to worship the car, and those foolish enough to try to walk through it take their lives in their hands.
  • Though public drunkenness is frowned on, Abu Dhabi boasts some of the swankiest liquor palaces in the UAE, catering to every conceivable taste.  
  • Try not to scream when the waiter hands you the bill. As you might expect, the cost of living in Abu Dhabi is extremely high; expect to pay considerably more for pretty much anything and everything.
  • A trip to the beach is a treat - a very expensive treat. The private beach clubs can set you back something in the region of Dhs150 to 450 a visit. 

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