Dubai Demands Decorum
- Dubai: A little more decorum, please
Mar 19th 2009
The relatively liberal emirate tightens its rules against kissing in public
THE image of Dubai as a sinfully glitzy oasis is fading, and not just because cash is less abundant in the global freeze. Belatedly concerned that its 1m-odd foreign residents, plus millions more tourists, are diluting its identity, the freewheeling emirate plans to curb their enthusiasm. A commission chaired by the crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, has proposed a code of public conduct to tighten strictures on dress, drinking, dancing and public displays of affection, such as kissing.
Not yet law, the code stresses tolerance and respect for diversity as cornerstones of Dubai's success. But it also stipulates that improper behaviour that flouts local customs may lead to fines, prosecution or deportation. This is neither new nor unexpected. Dubai's authorities recently jailed and deported a British couple caught having sex on a public beach, and have sentenced another Briton, a mother of two, to prison for adultery. Occasional morality campaigns have led to suspected homosexuals and cross-dressers being pestered, and may have dented the emirate's thriving prostitution trade.
Even if the proposed rules are enforced, confining dancers to enclosed places, drinkers to designated bars, swimsuit-wearers to beaches and would-be hand-holders to their legitimate spouses, Dubai will still look ragingly liberal compared with its neighbours. The current bestselling Arabic-language book in the emirate, for instance, is a sex-education manual by a family counsellor working in Dubai's courts. By contrast, religious police in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, patrolled the city's annual book fair earlier this month to prevent any hint of mingling between the sexes. Three Saudi writers complained that they were hustled off for interrogation after trying to get a novel signed by its female Saudi author.
In a much-heralded breakthrough, Saudi Arabia recently elevated a woman to the post of deputy minister of education. But she cannot drive a car and can communicate with her boss, the minister of education, only via closed-circuit television. Last week a Saudi judge sentenced a 75-year-old widow to four months in jail and 40 lashes for inviting two young men into her house. The errant youths, one of them a nephew of the woman's late husband, said they had simply been kind enough to bring the elderly lady some loaves of bread.
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