Dubai Commerce: Culture Clash Meets Thong Song

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/15/2008 09:49:00 AM
It is well-known that Dubai has been trying to attract expat talent and tourists to its shores via tax-free incentives and major new developments. At the same time, however, it has tried--like many other Arab states--to ring-fence decadent Western behaviour from polluting the minds of the local populace. This not-so-picturesque article from the Associated Press describes how the UAE decency police have been cracking down on topless sunbathers on its shores. I am often struck by the clash of cultures in interacting with those with the Muslim faith. Here in diverse Birmingham, for instance, I find it curious that Muslim women clad from head to toe escort their children who go swimming while bikini-clad women lounge at the local pool. (You would think I would be glad about the latter, especially now that it's summer--except that it's a lap pool and these loungers clog up the swimming lanes. As you can probably tell by now, bloggers are generally a very picayune lot.)

The same odd juxtaposition is happening on the beaches of Dubai. It's faintly ridiculous that they're cracking down hard as they've long promoted Dubai as an Eastern playground for Westerners. To some extent, the thong song will have to be tolerated. Sex on the beach? Those trying such stunts in the UAE are really pushing it, but somehow it's unsurprising given the climate being promoted:
Westerners were getting too racy on the beaches of this Persian Gulf tourist haven, and a police crackdown on topless sunbathing, nudity and other indecent behavior has resulted in 79 arrests in recent days.

Undercover officers are strolling the sand while others stand guard in new watchtowers [it gives a new spin to 'Baywatch', eh?] to enforce the social mores of this Muslim city-state, which is a booming business center that is attracting growing hordes of foreign tourists.

Authorities said they began the decency campaign after police detained a British man and a woman who were allegedly having sex on one of Dubai's sprawling beaches earlier this month. [Now we know why there will always be an England.]

Over the past two weeks, police have detained a total of 79 people whose behavior was "disturbing families enjoying the beach," Zuhair Haroun, a spokesman for Dubai's Criminal Investigation Department, said Monday.

First-time offenders may be issued a warning, but if caught twice, tourists could be referred to the public prosecutor for possible criminal charges, authorities said.

Thousands of European and Asian expatriates live and work in Dubai, where native Emiratis make up only about 20 percent of the estimated 1.2 million residents. Shopping malls and fast food restaurants have replaced traditional Arab houses, and English has overtaken Arabic as the emirate's lingua franca.

Many Emiratis and Arabs visiting from other Persian Gulf countries increasingly feel Dubai's ambition to become a cosmopolitan metropolis and tourist destination is overrunning their own traditions and contradict what they feel is culturally acceptable.

Unlike elsewhere in the conservative Persian Gulf, tourists in Dubai are often seen wearing skimpy bikinis on public beaches and walk the city's streets in shorts. Alcohol is freely available in hotel bars and restaurants in this regional businesses and entertainment hub.

While pursuing the police crackdown, Dubai has embarked on a public awareness campaign to remind its Western visitors and foreign residents that the city may have flashy hotels and glitzy skyscrapers but it also is a Muslim country with traditionally conservative values.

The city is installing signs warning tourists in Arabic, English and several other languages not to sunbathe topless or change clothes in public, said Abdullah Mohammed Rafia, an official with the Dubai Municipality whose office is overseeing the public awareness campaign.

Authorities are "taking action in response to numerous complaints" filed by people who visit the city's beaches, Rafia said. Complaints have ranged from families "offended by displays of nudity" to women sunbathers who say groups of men stare at them while at the beach.

The police campaign also will target people who harass beachgoers with acts "deemed offensive, immoral or disrespectful," including loitering and voyeurism, said Dubai's acting police chief, Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina...