Abu Dhabi - Arab governments should use anti-riot gear against protesters to save lives after many were killed in a disproportionate response to Arab Spring uprisings, defence experts at a Gulf defence show said.
"Every country must invest in the correct equipment for crowd control," said Ivor Ichikowitz of South African defence and security firm Paramount Group, when asked if Arab nations need to be better equipped to deal with protests.
"The riot catastrophe in Egypt, for example, was greatly exacerbated because police were using inappropriate equipment," he said at the Abu Dhabi IDEX defence show.
Next to a Eurofighter Typhoon warplane and huge rocket launchers, exhibitors such as Paramount Group and Turkey's Otokar displayed the latest in riot control vehicles.
From inside these mobile fortresses, police can scan the area and repel rioters with devices ranging from water cannon to acoustic repellents that emit high frequency tones over an impenetrable zone 30m deep.
"Appropriate and better-quality anti-riot vehicles and equipment increases police safety, thus reducing the pressure they feel in conflict situations," Ichikowitz said.
Thousands of protesters have been killed in demonstrations that have swept across several Arab countries since December 2010, in some cases developing into open armed conflict.
The uprisings ousted the presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi was killed by rebels.
Security forces quelled Shi'ite-led protests in Bahrain in 2011, while protests in Syria that began in March 2011 escalated into an armed conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 70 000 people.
"If a given state lacks the means, the doctrines, and the training for homeland defence and internal security missions, that government is more likely to use lethal means that are disproportionate," said Steven Adragna of US-based Arcanum defence consultancy firm.
He said anti-riot gear, which in addition to batons and shields includes shotguns, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, can maintain order.
"If an individual policeman is trained on how to use those devices, I think they are perfectly legitimate," he said.
In many Arab countries, however, security forces charged mostly peaceful protesters who took to the streets demanding political change.
"Rubber bullets come with instructions," said a representative of a Brazilian firm when asked about the possible lethal impact of such ammunition.
He said users are told to respect the safety range and aim at the ground ahead of the target so the ricocheting rubber bullet hits rioters' legs, not their upper bodies.
Security forces in Bahrain continue to tear-gas Shi'ite protesters and also use shotguns.
In Egypt, security forces under the post-Hosni Mubarak government appear to have reverted to the same heavy-handed practices used under the former strongman's rule.
"Egypt is a big customer. Egyptian police have several thousands of this" M3 shotgun, Mauro Della Costanza of Italy's Benelli firearms manufacturer said of his firm's law enforcement shotguns.
Tunisia under embargo
"In the past two years, we had a big increase in purchase orders from the Middle East, especially the UAE," he said.
But he said that exports to some countries face delays, and sometimes complete bans, from Italian export authorities which investigate "how guns will be used".
"Tunisia is under a 100% embargo," he said, when asked about the North African nation that saw the first so-called Arab Spring uprising, and where an Islamist-led government now rules.
Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday that arms-exporters must ensure that any deals brokered at the Abu Dhabi expo "do not result in weapons reaching countries where they could contribute to serious human rights abuses".