Britons in Dubai know the local customs, so why do they have so much trouble adhering?

The tolerance of the British, and their acceptance of immigrants to this country, is commendable. But the attitude of Emiratis is admirable on a different scale

Share
Related Topics

As the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, prepared for his state visit to the UK last week, three British tourists were sentenced to four years for possessing, consuming and intending to distribute illegal drugs in Dubai. Suneet Jeerh, 25, Karl Williams, 26, and Grant Cameron, 25, claim they were tortured by police after being taken into custody last summer.

This is not the first time such allegations have been made against Dubai Police. In 2011, British tourist Lee Bradley Brown, 39, from East London, died whilst in custody in Dubai. His family believe he was beaten to death and have campaigned tirelessly for further investigations. Once again, Dubai finds itself under scrutiny by the British press, and once again, we are all quick to pass the same judgements. We watched in awe as a sparkling city rose up from the desert, but we were the first to criticise and try to bring it to its knees.

I moved to the Emirate in 2008 and, working as a news reporter for an English language newspaper, saw Dubai in all its guises, for all its achievements and downfalls. I am the first to admit it is far from perfect, a bizarre city absent of identity and culture. But I know dozens of expats who are loyal and defensive, proud and patriotic just like the locals, and many will stay for as long as they can. In return, Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is a leader who has worked hard to earn respect. Affectionately nicknamed “Sheikh Mo”, countless tales can be heard about his kind actions and charitable work. He is known to be approachable, often spotted driving alone, without visible security.

As I watched the news last week from my home in the UK, I was reminded of other news stories involving foreigners in the Emirate, arrested for inappropriate behaviour, and imprisoned for possession of minute quantities of drugs. Just like them, Jeerh, Williams and Cameron must have known about Dubai’s zero tolerance approach to drugs. They, like the rest of us, must have heard the stories. If they were in possession of “spice”, a synthetic form of cannabis, it is difficult to sympathise. If they wanted a drug and drink-fuelled holiday, Dubai was the wrong choice.

But the trio’s case became far more complicated as soon as we heard the word “torture”. Any form of abuse towards prisoners or violation of human rights must be condemned, but this cannot excuse the law they broke. We all hope as British citizens we will be aided by our government, but we cannot assume we hold a Get Out Of Jail Free card if we commit a crime in a foreign land. The British authorities must push for an independent investigation into the alleged torture of the men, regardless of whether they are guilty of drug possession or not.

For an Islamic country, governed by Sharia law, the UAE is extremely lenient, and Dubai is the most liberal of the seven Emirates. Short skirts, bikinis, drinking alcohol, and eating pork are not forbidden, but such activities are reserved for an appropriate time and place. Living within the parameters of the law is rarely restrictive. You may have to cover your shoulders in the mall, avoid stumbling down the road after one too many, try not to go topless on the beach, and resist public displays of affection, but most of these rules simply require respectable behaviour and a little common sense. Luckily, most expats are well equipped with both.

But there are exceptions in every society. Just as we are offended and confused by a woman wearing a niqab in Europe, an Emirati may feel the same about revealing clothing and plunging necklines. A young woman wearing a wet bikini and a white cotton dress would attract disapproving looks on a busy British high street, so why does she think it acceptable in the Mall of the Emirates where signs clearly display the necessary dress code? There appears to be a sense of entitlement among a very small number of expats, who do not feel the need to respect customs they may see as archaic and irrelevant, and who ruin the experience for the law-abiding, respectful majority.

The tolerance of the British, and their acceptance of immigrants to this country, is commendable. But the attitude of Emiratis is admirable on a different scale. They have found themselves in the minority, surrounded by brazen westerners who want a taste of their tax-free life with little regard for their traditions and laws. Yet they remain tolerant. Two parallel worlds exist simultaneously within the city, each unaffected and unnoticed by the other. To imagine such a system here in the UK is impossible. We are quick to criticise immigrants who do not learn English or assimilate into our society, so why do we not understand the importance to reciprocate?

Dubai is still too young for us to predict its fate, and will go through many ups and downs as it grows. But it will struggle to carve a real identity, or even build on the culture it once began with, if members of its own society cannot respect its basic foundation and principles.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss