Thursday, July 10, 2008

UPDATED: Scratch (Maybe) This Country Off My Travel List

One of my favorite English language publications in my International Media list in my sidebar is the United Arab Emirates daily The National.

The United Arab Emirates is the financial hub of the Persian Gulf region and has a large expatriate population. As noted by Expat Focus, "[t]he United Arab Emirates are generally recognised as the most cosmopolitan and "Westernised" of the Middle East countries and the expat population is growing rapidly. In fact, less than 50% of the population of the UAE are Arabs."

On the other hand, however, "95% of the population are Muslims and Islam is the official religion." Thus, while "alcohol is available to non-Muslims (with the exception of the Emirate of Sharjah where it is forbidden for all) it must never be consumed on the streets or offered to local citizens."

It is probably inevitable then that some tensions would arise between Western expatriates and tourists in the Emirates and the mores and customs of the local population.

One apparent problem is a growing number of complaints about topless women at UAE beaches. From the article in The National:

Public beaches in Dubai will soon have large signs warning women against topless bathing and indecent exposure contrary to the cultural values of the UAE.

Dubai Municipality said yesterday the decision followed repeated complaints from residents about nudity, mostly among tourists. Residents had complained that a growing number of women were sunbathing and swimming topless, municipality officials said.

An extreme example of this disregard for local mores is reported in this article, wherein:

A British sales manager caught having intercourse with a man on a public beach faces a jail term of up to six years.

Michelle Palmer, who is in her 30s, and the British tourist face charges of public indecency after a police officer who had previously warned the pair about their behaviour found them having intercourse on Jumeirah beach.

While a jail term of up to six years is unduly harsh for fucking on the beach, it is perfectly reasonable for the UAE to enforce standards of decency on their public beaches. After all, we don't permit such things on our beaches here in the United States.

But because we are talking about an Islamic country here, you know they can't help themselves from taking their prohibitions to the level of absurdity. To repeat, no one can fault the UAE for cracking down on indecent exposure on their public beaches, particularly those where children are present. But it is quite another thing to make it a crime for even married couples to kiss and hug in public. Again, from The National:

Couples arrested for kissing in public, a crime punishable by deportation, cannot plead ignorance of the law, a senior Dubai judge has warned.

Earlier this year, an expatriate couple arrested for kissing in a parked car narrowly avoided being deported after being found not guilty of a scandalous public act.

A passer-by noticed the couple, photographed them in the act and then reported them to the police.

“The man was planning to take his wife out to dinner for her birthday after a heated argument and he was apologising to her and kissed her. A man who happened to be walking by saw them and took their picture,” said their lawyer, Nabih Bader. The couple escaped with a stern warning from a judge.

As the excerpt from the article above shows, such a law is practically an invitation for busy bodies armed with cell phone cameras to go around snooping on couples and reporting them to the police. It is petty and vindictive.

It is not clear to me from the article how far the law in the UAE goes. I have e-mailed the author of the article and asked if it applies to circumstances such as if I were to greet my wife in a public place and give her a quick embrace and a kiss on the lips for at most a second or two. I also asked the author if it applies to married couples who hold hands together while walking on the beach. If that is indeed the case, then I definitely have no desire to visit the United Arab Emirates with my family as long as such a law is on the books and enforced. Hopefully the writer of the article will provide me with a reply, and if so, I will update this post with his or her response.

UPDATE: The writer of the article on public kissing being a crime in the UAE, Hani Bathish, was kind enough to favor me with a reply to me e-mail. Hani wrote:

"Well Tom, of-course there is considerable leeway afforded, especially to foreign nationals, I doubt anyone would raise a fuss over a couple holding hands in public, or even a peck on the cheek. The UAE, however, is still a deeply conservative culture so it always helps to keep that in mind when you are here.

Thanks for reading The National and taking the trouble to write, we greatly value any and all feedback from our readers on our stories."

Okay, so maybe I might be willing to visit the United Arab Emirates, though to be honest, I am not much of a desert person. I am not keen on visiting Las Vegas either. In conclusion, Western tourists and expatriates in the UAE should not act like obnoxious assholes, and the UAE should maybe lighten up a little on mild displays of public affection.


Anonymous said...

As somebody who's born and brought up in UAE, I can tell you that the official law does not really apply to greeting your spouse in public or holding hands. What really ruined it for the British woman was the fact, that she was drunk, was warned by the officer and then even abused him and tried to hit him with her shoe.
Hopefully, She doesn't get the 6 year sentence as I'm sure she's already learned her lesson.

Tommykey said...

Hi Gooner! Thanks for your comments.

I agree that the British woman was way out of line and deserves some kind of punishment. I think a fine and possibly deportation should be fair enough.

The writer of the article, Hani Bathish, was kind enough to favor me with a reply to my e-mail and I am updating the post accordingly.

Kyle said...

Check this one out for more updates on this beach party ;)