Over the last few decades the United Arab Emirates has become one of the premier destinations for westerners to flock to, not just for holidaying but also for work. This influx of foreign workers is one of the main reasons that the UAE, Dubai in particular, has prospered so well in recent times. However this growth comes with a price, despite the mass of westerners and rapid growth Dubai, and the rest of the UAE, are countries that follow the laws of Islam, and now this melding of eastern and western sensibilities is beginning to cause problems.
To many, Dubai is the perfect exotic paradise with hot weather all year round, tax-free shopping, demand for foreign workers, lavish sights and decadent hotels, all in a nation that is rich on the profits of precious oil. However, people must remember the many strict rules that must be followed in Dubai, rules that are very different to any codes of conduct found in the west, especially when it comes to common western actions such as drinking alcohol and displaying affection.
This has been highlighted over the years by many overly rambunctious Brits who have forgotten where they are, flaunted the rules, and ended up in jail. The most recent case is that of the twenty-something couple who were reported to the police by an Emirati woman, who claimed they were drunk in a restaurant and kissing each other inappropriately. The British couple, Ayman Najafi and Charlotte Adams, insist that they simply greeted each other with a small peck on the cheek. Unfortunately the indecency charge has led to the pair being found guilty and they now face a month in a Dubai jail cell.
This is just the latest issue that has arisen in the culture-clash hell-haven that is Dubai. The huge increase of foreigners has led to Dubai nationals, Emiratis, making up roughly just five percent of the entire two million population. More and more Emiratis now feel that they are in danger of losing their sacred culture amidst a wave of foreign hedonism. Dr Ibtisam al-Ketbi, a professor of sociology at the UAE University said: “We have become a minority. Our traditions are threatened and Arabic is no longer the first language. We are surrounded by foreigners, and live in constant fear for our children because of the spread of drugs and a rise in crime rates”.
Emiratis follow Islamic guidelines that prohibit public indecency (including clothing, or lack of) consumption of alcohol and acts of affection. Alcohol is allowed to be consumed by westerners but only in specially licensed bars and hotels. Dubai nationals are now claiming that the lines between foreigner and national are blurring to the point that the nationals themselves are becoming the minority, and the rules for foreigners are not being enforced. With foreigners living in their own compounds and Emiratis living in their areas there is a feeling of segregation and divide, a divide that the Emiratis are not taking well. “We are practically living in reservations, and if this abnormal growth continues at the current rate, in 20 years time we'll end up like the American Indians. We were undergoing natural development until the property boom came along in the past 10 years, and in the attempt to encourage foreign investment, the city became open to everything, including alcohol and prostitution” said Dr Ketbi.
The author of the book, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, Chris Davidson is aware of this divide and its dangers: “Many nationals now contend that they feel unwelcome in certain parts of the city and often complain that restaurant and hotel managers discriminate against national dress, the resentment nationals feel about foreigners is becoming more public" he believes, "Two or three years ago, no one really cared”. These worries have been confirmed by the Emiratis themselves, Abdel Khalek Abdullah, an academic and writer, voiced his own concerns on the matter: “Emiratis are starting to lose much of their identity, and the presence of so many expats leads to unacceptable behaviour that does not conform to our traditions. What arouses UAE concern is the massive influx of foreigners due to very rapid economic growth. If officials do not take bold steps, the social costs of this frantic economic development will be much greater than any economic benefits”.
If you yourself are thinking about to travelling to Dubai then consult our detailed Dubai city guide to learn more about the customs that are in place.