Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guess What? Some Arab Countries are Sexually Conservative

A United Arab Emirates appeals court judge in Dubai has upheld the verdict against a British couple caught kissing in public.

Unless the couple makes a second appeal within 30 days, the court's decision means authorities will jail the couple for a month and then deport them. They will also be fined $300 for drinking alcohol.

The couple, Ayman Najafi, 24, and Charlotte Adams, 25, claimed they had only kissed on the cheek at a restaurant while under the influence of alcohol.

The Dubai Misdemeanours Court had initially sentenced them for kissing and touching at a restaurant in Jumeirah Beach Residence. Presiding Judge Ebrahim Khalil Abu Shamma handed out the primary verdict.

The couple were arrested in November 2009, after an Emirati mother claimed her children “saw the man kiss the woman on her lips” around 2 a.m. in the restaurant and reported their behavior to police, the authorities said.

They were charged with kissing and touching each other intimately in public – violations of law against public indecency – and consuming alcohol.

When the defendants appeared in court they denied kissing on the lips and said they kissed each other on the cheek. However, they pleaded guilty to consuming alcohol.

Najafi is British but lives and works in Dubai, while Adams is a British tourist who was visiting the city-state at the time she was arrested.

The couple had been dining with friends at Bob's Easy Diner, one of a stretch of cafes on a popular strip behind the city's Jumeirah Beach. The foreign population has soared in Dubai in recent years as expatriates, courted by the country, flock to the booming emirate to work.

Now, expatriates outnumber locals by more than eight to one in the port city – one of seven emirates that make up the oil-rich Gulf nation.

But the population changes and the breakneck modernization of the sheikdom has also often caused friction with the deeply conservative social and religious identity of the locals.

In 2008, a British couple were sentenced to three-month jail terms for unmarried sex and public indecency, but those were suspended on appeal.

The two were arrested on a public beach shortly after midnight. Both denied they had intercourse.

Given the above, Sarah Jessica Parker should have known better.

It is being reported that the actress had a vision. The plot of her new film, Sex and the City 2, would be set in the emirate of Dubai. The sultry resort city would be the perfect getaway destination for the franchise's Manhattan-dwelling characters. Unfortunately for Parker, who executive-produced and starred in the film, Dubai wasn't as welcoming as she thought it would be.

According the films producers, they worked for half a year trying to gain shooting permits in Dubai but were denied because the film's title had the word "sex" in it. "Half the story was originally set around Dubai," a male producer said. "Ski Dubai was in, the Dubai Creek was was all about Dubai. They wanted the girls to be in a rich, modern Arab city."

Parker, the movie's main star and its executive producer, was personally involved in advancing the request. In August, Dubai Studio City, the authority that grants filming permission, released a statement saying it, "referred the script to the relevant government authority to review the same by taking into consideration the multicultural fabric of the society and its perceptions." It added, "further to the recommendation of the government authority, the request for filming was declined."

The film's producers then went to Abu Dhabi as a replacement, and sensed they would be fine to shoot there. But Dubai urged Abu Dhabi to decline, said the filmmaker involved in the process, apparently because of embarrassment that Abu Dhabi might say yes when Dubai said no.

"There was a phone call from Dubai. It became political," the filmmaker said.

So instead the producers moved the film to Abu Dhabi but Dubai officials "urged Abu Dhabi to decline," said a filmmaker. They stuck out again. The film would eventually be shot in Morocco despite the plot's claim that they're in Abu Dhabi.

This report has garnered headlines today because the movie is about to hit theaters and multi-plexes on May 28.

To me, the message of both reports is NOT about the relative merits of sexual freedom within the Arab world, but OUR (and yes, sometimes Britian’s) continued arrogance to assume that the U.S.-U.K. way is the ONLY way. If our relationship with Muslim countries and elsewhere around the globe is ever going to improve, we need to work on our nation’s xenophobia. (I would suggest that the U.K. could also make a similar effort, but in general, I have found U.S. attitudes the more shocking.)

It’s really pretty simple: if you will be traveling abroad, research the customs (including religious practices) of the country you will be visiting. It is YOU who will be the guest in THEIR country, after all.

If we continue to fail to understand – or to even reject – the most basic cultural differences between countries, we will never begin to develop a true appreciation and respect for the people who live there.
— The Curator


  1. Dear Curator,

    While I totally agree with your position that one should research the customs of the country you will be visiting, it is also the responsibility of countries that actively seek tourism to make clear what those customs and requirements are. Abu Dhabi very actively promotes itself as a tourism destination. On the official tourism site “Welcome to Abu Dhabi”,, I found two sections providing guidance that would perhaps apply to public indecency. Neither of these sections seems to offer any warning that the behavior of the British citizens might not be acceptable. These two sections and their content are as follows:

    Dress Code

    Abu Dhabi is generally conservative but tolerant when it comes to dress code. The attitude to dress is relaxed, but visitors (both men and women) are advised not to wear excessively revealing clothing in public places, as a sign of respect for local culture and customs. This also applies to public beaches, where swimmers should avoid excessively revealing swimming suits. Most nightclubs require their guests not to wear shorts, caps or sport shoes on their premises. Unless otherwise indicated, official events usually require non-locals to wear formal dress; a suit and tie for men and an evening dress for women.

    As for the weather requirements, lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year (summer, spring and autumn), though a light sweater or cardigan could be handy when visiting a shopping mall, hotel or restaurant where the temperature might be kept too low to counter the outdoor heat. Slightly warm clothes are needed for the short winter season, especially in the evening.



    Alcohol is served to non-Muslims in all major hotels and licensed restaurants, but public drunkenness and drinking and driving are not tolerated. The latter is a serious offence, with zero tolerance for driving while under the influence of alcohol. Serving, selling or giving alcohol to non-Muslims is also against the law. There is also no tolerance for drug use, and visitors may face long prison sentences if apprehended with any drugs, however small the quantity. The Ministry of Health’s Drug Control Department publishes lists of restricted drugs and medications that may otherwise be prescribed in travelers’ home countries, so travelers must take special care to ensure that their medications or other substances are not restricted before traveling.

    Visitors to Abu Dhabi should avoid photographing women in general, and particularly national women, without their permission. It is always courteous to ask before photographing people. There are few other restrictions on photography in the emirate – only military, government and airport installations are not allowed to be photographed.

    Since this is the official tourism site for Abu Dhabi, perhaps a better explanation of the local customs and restrictions relating to public displays of affection is in order. The British citizens were most likely in violation of local laws. Thus I do not question the legal proceedings and findings. But I do believe any government that actively seeks a tourism based economy has a responsibility to openly communicate the behavior it expects from those tourists. Does Abu Dhabi make those local customs and restrictions related to what in most western countries would be considered minor sexually expressions clear?

    Is Still Here

  2. Wonderful comment! It NEVER occurred to me to research their tourism publications -- and I'm a former journalist. Great job, and I couldn't agree with you more. They need to update their publication, or be more specfic. Thanks again for an important contribution to this post!