Sunday, 15 March 2009

New Rules for a Decent Dubai?

Emirate of DubaiImage via Wikipedia

Saturday's edition of the Dubai-owned Arabic language daily Emarat Al Youm carried on its front page a piece of news that, strangely, other newspapers didn't rush to file - although The National and Kipp have it today and AFP filed on it. I can't find it in 7Days, GN or KT. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough.

Below is an informal translation of the key elements of that article. Any errors in translation are regretted and will be corrected as soon as advised.

According to Emarat Al Youm, a new set of decency guidelines has been promulgated by the Dubai Executive Council and, according to the paper, these have been shared with government and private sector organisations.

  • People are requested to respect the history, culture and traditions of the United Arab Emirates and to avoid improper behaviour in Dubai.
  • Residents are asked to show respect to the authorities, flag and national emblems of the UAE, including its rulers. Insulting these is considered a punishable crime.
  • Appropriate, modest, dress should be worn in public - particularly in government offices and public areas. Trousers and skirts should be of proper length and not reveal the body improperly. This includes not wearing 'bad' logos or photographs on t-shirts etc that could be seen as offensive to any element of society.
  • Beachware should be appropriate and worn at the beach only. Nudity is absolutely prohibited and is punishable by law.
  • Public displays of affection should be appropriate. Only a husband and wife can hold hands in public. No kissing or other displays of affection such as hugging in public are permitted. Sexual harassment and the making of sexual overtures to women are not permitted.
  • The taking of drugs and alcohol are prohibited in Islam. Because of the diversity of society in Dubai, the taking of alcohol is permitted. However, anyone caught under the influence of alcohol outside of places where the sale and consumption of alcohol is permitted are subject to fines or imprisonment. Medicines that contain drugs not allowed legally in the UAE should not be taken.
  • Drink driving will not be tolerated.
  • Drivers are obligated to wear seatbelts, ensure children sit on the back seat, not use mobile phones when driving, give way to civil defence personnel, not slow to watch accidents and park only in designated areas.
  • Smoking is not permitted in government offices or shopping malls by law.
  • People are asked to refrain from playing loud music in public places such as parks, beaches and residential areas. Dancing and music are permitted in licensed venues.
  • Music should not be played in public places or cars near mosques, particularly during the Azan (call to prayer). Smoking, eating and drinking in public are not permitted during Ramadan.
  • The holding of any religious activity in public, whether Islamic or otherwise, should only take place with appropriate permissions.
  • Recognising people's need to co-exist in peace, giving offense with insulting and aggressive gestures are subject to punishment by fine and jail. The guidelines ask for priority to be given to the elderly, pregnant women and people with special needs. People are also asked to avoid loud conversations, laughter or whistling in public.
  • The guidelines do specify that spreading malicious rumours that can harm the public good will be punishable by law.
  • People should take care in taking photographs and taking photographs of families and women in Dubai is not pemitted.

The above guidelines, in my personal view, are a welcome clarification, for visitors and residents alike, of what is and is not appropriate behaviour in the UAE. Ever since I first came to this country in the 1980s, I have been aware of the above, as have many people who have lived here for some time.

This is nothing new, people. It has always been this way in the UAE. All of it, including the holding hands thing.

It's good that now, better late than never, it's down in black and white and people can be quite sure of where they stand. But let us be very clear this is a restatement of what has always been the case here. It's not a 'new crackdown' or a new 'tightening' or any other such tosh. It's the way things are and always have been here. Just because people have got into the habit of disrespecting those norms does not mean that reaffirming them is any form of restriction or clampdown.

And if you don't like it, yes, you do know what to do!!! :)

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Seabee said...

Agree with you, there's nothing new and nothing to get worked up about. It's the behaviour norms that were always accept and practiced by expats in the past but with the new influx of both expats and tourists it needed to be formalised.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

I find the reference to consideration and deference to elderly and pregnant women quite comforting. And I totally agree with you. There’s nothing new here.

A question I’d sincerely like to ask of my expat friends who come from liberal countries, is it hard to abide by those rules?

samuraisam said...

I don't really mind anything on the list; the one thing I object to is no holding hands, it's patently stupid. I have been living here 18 years, I've seen hundreds upon thousands of people holding hands and I've never heard anyone complain about it.

If I go out to a mall with my girlfriend (she's lived here 18 years too) and I hold her hand who is this supposed to offend? And at this point I'm just talking about holding someone's hand. How on earth can this city have nightclubs if it is illegal to hold hands? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever; in Saudi it makes perfect sense but nowhere near at all makes sense here.

For the moment I don't actually believe these rules because they're not anywhere official just yet; till I see them on WAM or not front-page material on an english newspaper I'm not trusting them for now.

The WAM website doesn't work properly for now so I'm going to wait a few days to see if these rules are the real deal.

rosh said...

I agree Alex, these aren't new. They've always been there, especially driving and drinking. Even though I don't drink, some friends (expats & locals) do, they've always been cautious of the law, especially driving from AJ or DXB back to SHJ.

Sam, I think there's more to "holding hands" - perhaps it's not as black & white - I don't think a fiance holding her man's hand is against the law. Yes, I realize they've not gone into specifics, but everyone holds hands in the UAE - even in SHJ & RAK.

nzm said...

Does the hand-holding also apply to the Arab men?

Agree that there's nothing new here, and that it's about time that these were reiterated.

Now, how are they going to educate the tourists about them? Giving out etiquette pamphlets to visitors on incoming aircraft would be a good start - or perhaps at immigration at the time of passport stamping.

sarsour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sarsour said...

I agree with DJ in that it was good to see the reference to the elderly, the pregnant and those with special needs.

Yeah, to some extent this is a reworking of what was unspoken yet understood. But putting it down in black and white also means there's no leeway. There are no warnings, no empowered conversations with those who enforce the law (either within or outside of reason).

In theory, what if this is the beginning of a slippery slope? Are we missing the warning signs? Taken with the Youtube ban for instance does this have slightly more concerning implications?

Also, I've heard that this may be linked to money injections from Abu Dhabi - does anyone have an opinion/information on this?

alexander... said...

Twinkletoes, the Abu Dhabi thing is piffle as far as I can see - Gulf News today leads with a stout denial from the President that Abu Dhabi is buying up Dubai Ltd, which is great to see given all the chattering and wittering that's been going on in the background.

The YouTube ban was a call from a frequently outspoken public figure, but that don't mean it's policy. I don't think we've got any reason to worry about a 'backlash' but I am genuinely good to see a restatement of the values that had so much to do with making this an attractive, tolerant, safe and enjoyable place to live and work in the first place!

the real nick said...

@ DJ,
With the exception of not being allowed to hold hands and "laugh loud in public" I as a Western expat have no problem at all with these guidelines or laws. As would any decent considerate human being with half a brain cell. Contrary to widespread prejudice against the "Western way of life" among self-appointed Islamic moral guardians, this is after all how most decent folk the world over behave anyway.

clare said...

A pdf of the English translation of the rules is available here:

Most of the rules seem quite normal to me (hand-holding excepted) and I would be delighted if the rules on "driving safely" were enforced. As for "mutual respect" I'll be very happy the day people stop answering mobile phones at the cinema.

Qatar Cat said...

LOL @ holding hands bit. So a husband and wife are allowed, and girlfriend and boyfriend are not, because it is "offensive"? How would the people know?

Also, why can Arab or Asian men hold hands? I thought gay marriages were not allowed in Dubai, and since only wives and husbands can hold hands, I believe they shouldn't be allowed to do so.


Dave said...

A storm in an Arab tea-cup, and nothing to worry about providing you do the right thing at the right time.... but holding hands??

The Spear said...

Isn't the culture and tradition of a place a evolving thing that happens over time, determined by the majority of the population?

Or is it something forced on you?

sarsour said...

I see your point Alex. Life is all grays though and the ability to talk to people as human beings and work flexibly within the rules is what I love about the Middle East. Putting the 'rules' before the situation is one of those things people complain about in the UK for example and I wouldn't want to see that happen.

I guess that's the way of big cities though, which Dubai has become. Don't you just miss the old days :)

Shocked & Stunned said...

Whilst I agree nothing new and startling here I the hypocrisy does stick in the throat. Ref your last comment about "if you don't like it..." I wish some people would take note that the 'mutual respect' part is a 2-way thing.
I'd therefore like to thank the Dubai Police OFFICER (I could see his uniform as he had his 100% tinted window rolled down)in the Landcruiser with the 4-digit plate who screamed "F*ck you, f*ck you" at the top of his voice at me whilst I made a legal U-turn at the traffic lights on Al Wasl Rd at 3pm this afternoon for a) increasing my son's vocabulary and b)doing his bit to improve the already badly tarnished international reputation of Dubai by doing this in front of 2 stunned elderly Western tourists who were waiting to cross the road.
I've been here a good few years but was shocked by this behaviour - we'd get fined or locked up - what do you think would happen if i made a complaint about this guy? Maybe I need a holiday...?

Peter Jenkins said...

Yes, we know what to do: protest and complain until the most ridiculous and outdated of these rules are revoked. Sure, drink driving is bad, but what sort of people forbid hugging?? I will protest by having mass hugging sessions with all my friends in public places. Free hugs all round! And no whistling?? Is that a joke? I am going to walk down the street, whistling, laughing and holding hands and I encourage everyone else to do so. To imply that the only alternative to accepting dumb rules is to leave the country is absurd.

Fadi said...

Shocked & Stunned;

Its most likely his country so he has a bit more right to vent his anger than you do. We believe that "Strangers should always be polite" so you should have looked at your fault instead of moaning here.

dan stuart said...

"People are also asked to avoid loud conversations, laughter or whistling in public."

...come on. This is all a bit ridiculous. These and other points contained in this "reiteration" are not referring to commonly-held moral guidelines, but laws with punishments. They are not representative of the culture that is evolving here in the UAE.

"Like it or leave it" is probably the most frustration-inducing comment for me whenever I hear it. Social debate is productive in both process and result. "Like it or leave it" is a closed door to any such debate and to the natural evolution of a society.

Shocked and stunned said...


Quote: "Its most likely his country so he has a bit more right to vent his anger than you do." What utter rubbish. This is exactly the sort of attitude that pisses off soooooooooooo many people here. "it's our country" so it's ok to scream foul mouthed abuse to anyone you want. Take a look at yourself. Do you REALLY think that anything is justified just because "it's his country".

Quote: "We believe that "Strangers should always be polite"" Well obviously you don't because you are condoning something that in all other cultures is considered wrong.

Quote: "so you should have looked at your fault instead of moaning here." Obviously the point has eluded your grasp - I was driving carefully and courteously and performing a legal manoeuvre. Had I been driving like this policeman then I might have expected some comment but still not "f*ck you".

Look at what this discussion is about - a set of rules for EVERYONE to obey but obviously some are more equal than others and don't NEED to obey them. I have nothing but contempt for that attitude. Why do you think the world's press has turned on Dubai? Here's a hint: arrogance like yours is one of the reasons. Oh I know - if I don't like it I can leave.

Please open up the debate - does anyone else think it's ok to scream f*ck you in the street - not just here but anywhere? Maybe then you'll listen. But I doubt it.

alexander... said...


No, I completely agree with you. One of the reasons I like these rules is that they are the rules I have always known to govern everyone's deportment here.


I do, personally, hate the 'this is my country' arrogance, always in my experience thrown up in defence of some indefensible action - usually in violation of the very law of the land. And I agree, it's intolerable.

The point about this stuff is that it's supposed to apply to everyone.

It'd be great if you took your copper's numberplate and reported him.

I posted a while back about the copper that drove his car into me - I refused to hand him my documents and had a Dhs100 fine for not complying with a policeman in the end. But the blokes at the station waived my Dhs100 accident fine because they knew as well as I did that the copper who hit me was being a dick. And while they understood why I'd be reluctant to hand my license and reg to a bloke that had just whacked my car, they made the point that the law here is that you must always comply with a policeman in uniform.

That may not be European style justice, but the fact they waived a fine out of sympathy cheered me up no end.

Screaming abuse at anyone is against the law here. And you have every right to ask the law to be applied regardless if the culprit was duke or dustman.

Oh, and Mr. Jenkins - if it's the law of the land, you can change the law or change the land you live in. I'd respectfully suggest you'd be more successful in changing the land you live in than reforming the UAE's statute books.

I'm not saying the law's not an ass - but it is the law, always has been and likely will continue to be so for some time. And if you didn't, for some reason, know what the 'deal' was, you do now.

Right. Glad ramble's done with.

Anyone want to buy a Shiny?

Lotfi said...

Hi Guys, I enjoyed reading your comments about the "New Rules", I am An Arab Expat, probably I do understand poeple of this country a bit more than you do and in the same time I can understand defending someone's rights or way of living.
This country is important for us as far as we work and live here, the debate is very important, the doors should be kept open and I am happy to participate...

mick said...

Fahdi, you're a fool. An ignorant, narrow minded, obviously misogynstic man who doesn't think things through very well.
I've lived in Dubai for years, and let me tell you one thing: there is one rule for Emiratis, and one rule for everyone else. An Emirati can show you the finger, scream abuse at you, spit at you because you're someone who has the gall to have different ideals from them, and NOTHING will happen to them. A westerner does it, they're in BIG trouble. The trouble with Dubai is that there is a very thin veneer of 'civilised' attitude because they want foreign investment and business, covering an ancient, poor and tribal culture. Any govt that involves themselves with people's sex lives is making the grossest invasion of human privacy there is. These new 'rules' are not about public decency, they're about micro-management of people's personal lives. Thank God I don't live there.

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