While (the rich in oil) Abu Dhabi is the capital of UAE, Dubai has been more known among the emirates and in entire Middle East. It is because of its aggressive structures and openness to embrace innovations. This is probably the right thing to do since they had no oil source, risk appetite considered. This liberty did boost the tourism and other businesses and attracted a lot of visitors. Currently, 80% of its population is comprised of expatriates.
With Dubai’s boom and (just in time with) its sudden fall due to illiquidity to sustain its projects, its Executive Council has recently issued a formal Code of Conduct (in particular, list of prohibited behavior in public). As I read each point, I was not surprised at all. These are, but, reiterations. Before coming to UAE, I prepared myself for a big adjustment. To my relief, it was not a 180-degree turn. Except for limited source of pork and non-serving of dishes with pork in the restaurants, hotels and other establishments, everything else are fine especially the freedom to practice our faith and relaxed dress code.
We got to wear very Manila. I remember when I joined the Kapampangan Tour last December. One of the things which Anton asked me was if women (expats) are required to wear abaya (traditionally a black garment that covers the whole body except the face, feet and hands). No, not at all. With my more than a year stay here, I’ve willingly understood the restrictions especially for the women. My interaction with Arab colleagues, that includes reading some parts of Quoran (not required, I just wanted to), helped me to know where they are coming from.
It’s understandable though that a lot of expatriates are reacting to the newly issued rules by the Executive Council of Dubai. To quote verbatim, here are some. The bold fonts are mine.
(a) Alcohol consumption shall be confined to designated areas (i.e. licensed restaurants and venues that serve alcohol to their clients). Being caught under the effect of alcohol outside these places (even in light doses) can lead to a fine or incarceration.
(b) Buying and selling alcohol is controlled by very strict laws. Alcohol is exclusively sold by specialized licensed stores. It can only be bought by holders of an alcohol-purchasing license (this license is only attainable by non-Muslims). Buyers shall respect the local culture by carrying their alcohol in paper bags such that it cannot be seen.
(c) Photos of people – and especially photos of women and families – in public places shall not be taken without their permission. Taking photos of people is a sensitive issue in Dubai’s local culture.
(d) Begging is forbidden in all parts of Dubai.
(e) Dogs are forbidden in parks and beaches.
(f) Muslims pray five times a day. Each prayer is announced from the mosques by a call to prayer. When the call to prayer is heard, music shall be turned off in all public places and cars, and Muslims shall be allowed to perform their prayer duty.
(g) During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Throughout this month, eating, drinking or smoking in public spaces during daylight is considered a public offense and is punishable by law.
I can see your reaction as you read those. But the most talked about portions are these:
(h) In other public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts shall be of appropriate length. Moreover, clothing shall not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.
(i) Beachgoers – men and women – shall wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to Dubai’s culture. Swimwear shall not be worn outside the beach, as decent dress is the rule in rest of the city. Nudity is strictly forbidden in every part of the city and is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
(j) Displays of affection among couples – whether married or not – in public places does not fit the local customs and culture. Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting are considered an offense to public decency.
Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
(k) Loud music and dancing are forbidden in public places like parks, beaches or residential areas and must be restricted to licensed venues only.
What brought these? One report says that a series of incidents, including crackdowns on cross dressers and the expulsion of two British expats found guilty of having sex on the beach, has thrown the clash of local and foreign cultures in the limelight. Probably, this is one of the things that made the red flags glaring.
I’ve heard several reactions from locals and non-locals. Here are two examples that will show how wide the (reconcileable) gap is. Derived from separate conversations:
From a local: My 5-year old daughter is very much embarrassed whenever she sees women at the mall showing their arms and legs. “Mama, aren’t they shy to expose their bodies?”
From a friend who’s vacationing in Dubai this April (I forwarded to him the copy of the Code of Conduct): Ano???? Bawal ang holding hands kapag hindi pa kasal? Kalokohan ‘to. Ipapacancel ko na yung flight ko.
It is pretty challenging to find the balance between traditions and practicality. By simply saying, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do” is hardly applicable. Let’s see if Abu Dhabi’s and other emirates’ executive councils will issue a similar code. As long as blogging is allowed, I’m fine. 🙂
What are your thoughts?