It is a tribute to Qatar’s growing international profile that Milipol decided to relocate for the first time outside its host country, France. The international security exhibition is traditionally held every year in Paris, but the Qatari Interior Ministry’s determined efforts led it to make a successful bid to host the event in Doha.

Milipol 96, which took place on 9-12 November, attracted 187 companies from 52 countries, including Israel and Iran. More than 5,000 visitors attended the equipment exhibition and the programme of conferences on drug control and industrial site security. With about $200 million worth of trade generated by the event, Milipol’s sponsors are confident of staging Milipol 98 in Qatar in two years.

Colonel Yusuf al-Mana, head of the organising committee, said he had already been approached by a number of companies wanting to get involved in the event. ‘There is no reason why Milipol should not become a regular event in Qatar,’ he said. And he was keen to stress that the show was not just about doing deals – he hoped it would ensure that Qatar’s name would be known across the globe.

Exhibitors showed off an extensive array of equipment including armoured limousines, heavy machine guns and radio communications systems. All the leaders in the safety and security equipment sector were there, among them BMW, IBM, Motorola, British Aerospace, Thomson-CSF, Matra Communications and AV Technology International. Israeli security manufacturers rubbed shoulders with Saudi surveillance technology firms. Iranians and Americans mingled on the exhibition floor.

Colonel al-Mana dismissed suggestions that Israeli exhibitors were unwelcome in Doha, given the prevailing political winds. ‘The exhibition is open to everybody, so long as they are involved in the security field. Everyone is welcome,’ he said. Israel is a regular attender of Milipol in Paris and the Qatar authorities saw no reason to make a special case, despite the country’s recent decision to freeze trading relations with Tel Aviv. ‘Israel’s participation is complementary to its previous appearances at Milipol exhibitions,’ said al-Mana.

Qatar’s Interior Ministry proved to be the biggest single customer at Milipol with orders totalling $30 million. The biggest single buy was the $12 million deal to supply the Qatar defence forces with 30 US-made Hummer heavy-duty armoured cars. The ministry also sealed a deal with computer giant IBM worth $2.5 million to update its infrastructure and computer services, and placed a $3 million contract with German group Utsch for new radar-visible number plates for ministry vehicles.

Milipol 96 saw Qatar buy $1 million worth of hi-tech radio communications systems from Motorola to protect its police and defence forces’ telecommunications from outside surveillance in a deal lasting 25 years. Motorola has a strong presence in the Gulf, with sales of systems and products to GCC countries reaching $25 million in 1996. The company’s Middle East service manager Fouad al-Medenky said Milipol 96 would give another shot in the arm to Qatar’s comprehensive development programme initiated by the emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani. Motorola Radio Network Solutions Group unveiled its new generation of hand-held radios, the MTS2000 and XTS3000, specifically designed to meet the needs of public safety. Both models are designed to withstand punishing abuse as well as provide emergency services with easier glove handling.

BMW with its Qatar agent Al-Fardan Motors, the main sponsor of Milipol 96, saw the event as a great opportunity to establish a presence in the Middle East – a market where the German car giant is confident of growing. The company showed off two of its 5 series police cars, which have special radio transmission systems on the roof and transmission equipment in the boot, as well as one of its high-security 75OiL customised armoured cars (see box). BMW said Qatari officials had already conducted successful trial runs of the 3 and 5 series police vehicles and were optimistic of concluding a deal for the customised cars, having beaten off competition from a rival German car-maker in tests.

Hendrik von Kuenheim, BMW’s Middle East managing director, said the new 7 series armoured saloons evolved from an entirely new concept. ‘With the new model, you cannot see that it is an armoured vehicle. In the past many buyers bought the armoured cars to show off, but with the nature of risk changing, most buyers now prefer more discretion,’ he said. An important feature of BMW’s security concept is that the exterior look of the car remains unchanged. Despite the 750iL’s sandwich armour, B7 standard bullet-proof glass and quick-release windscreens, the car can hardly be distinguished from its regular production counterpart.

The final day at Milipol saw the first ever public demonstration of the Vigilant F2000 unmanned aerial reconnaissance helicopter, conducted by French defence equipment group Thomson-CSF. The rotocraft, weighing only 30 kilos, can pick up images using state-of-the-art surveillance equipment while staying airborne for up to two hours. Its demonstration flight at Milipol saw it fly over the exhibition hall area and record images of surrounding buildings. Thomson claimed to have received very positive interest in the helicopter, worth $1 million.

It was not just sophisticated equipment that attracted attention at Milipol. Israel’s stand, by its sheer presence, became a focal point for delegates’ curiosity. Israel is one of the global leaders in hi-tech industries with worldwide exports worth $4,300 million. Seven companies exhibited on the stand, ranging from manufacturers of bullet-proof vests to interactive firearm training firms. No sales were concluded but the Israelis, eager to break into the GCC market, argued that their presence at Milipol was more than merely symbolic.