Just how well do you know the law in Dubai. Time Out investigates
It seems Dubai’s authorities are cracking down on public indecency in the city. You probably know or have heard of someone who has recently been ‘red carded’, where the courtesy policy in malls is enforced by handing out warning notices to women wearing outfits that are deemed inappropriate (usually for exposing the knees and/or shoulders). Undercover police patrols of beaches resulted in 6,000 cases logged in the first 10 months of 2009, with offences including couples kissing and touching cited in police records. More recently, there’s the British couple appealing a jail sentence for being overtly affectionate in a JBR restaurant. We’ve also heard of women being questioned by policemen in the street for wearing shorts deemed too short.
Public decency laws have always existed in Dubai. But perhaps it’s because they are being so regularly flouted by the ever-increasing expat presence here that the authorities feel a need to remind us of what is and what is not acceptable. That said, the official ‘Rules of Conduct in Dubai’, prepared by the Executive Council, can be interpreted in various ways depending on the reader. Repeated calls by Time Out to the Criminal Investigations Department and Dubai’s Royal Courts turned up no definite answers. But the fact remains that this is a Muslim country and if someone takes offence to behaviour that conflicts with these laws and reports you, then you have committed a crime, whether or not plenty of other people do it and get away with it.
We expect the best way to avoid trouble is to interpret these rules as conservatively as possible. Time Out has emboldened certain points below.
Rules of Conduct in Dubai, prepared by the Executive Council
1.2. Decency In all public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts shall be of appropriate length. Moreover, clothing shall not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.
1.3. Beaches Beachgoers – men and women – shall wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to Dubai’s culture. Swimwear shall not be worn outside the beach, as decent dress is the rule in the rest of the city. Nudity is strictly forbidden in every part of the city and is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
1.4. Public displays of affection Displays of affection among couples – whether married or not – in public places does not fit the local customs and culture. Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated but kissing and petting are considered an offence to public decency.
Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places, are liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
Offence: Public display of affection Penalty: Warning or fine (in case of severe breach can lead to jail and/or deportation)
Over to you
Dubai residents weigh in on the debate Scotty Booth, US, 28 ‘I find the laws a little confusing since they’re not always enforced. Before I moved here I read something about keeping knees and shoulders covered. But then you go to Mall of the Emirates and women are walking around in tank tops. It’s completely inappropriate, because it’s implicitly obvious what the law is – to dress respectfully. But perhaps the guidelines should be more specific if Westerners are going to adhere to them.’
Mhairi Campbell, NZ, 29 ‘I’ve always worn short shorts in Dubai, and about six months ago I got red carded by a security guard in a mall who told me that I should dress more appropriately. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I was offended. If it was made clearer that this is the law and you can be arrested for it, then I would abide by it. But it needs to be made known – you should get a list of how it works and what the law is when you apply for your visa.’
John Schwartz, US, 46 ‘Dubai seems really relaxed and liberal in how it treats its expats and, although I do know that you’re supposed to dress modestly and that women shouldn’t expose their knees or shoulders, I don’t see anyone observing that! If it really is a punishable offence to kiss in public then there should be communication on a widespread basis, such as corporate seminars on conduct in the workplace.’
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Asim Nov 27, 2012 06:53 am
They're just asking you to wear something decent, not to cover yourselves with a burqa or wear a scarf and accept Islam. Its the moral code and conduct of the Emaratis here, so yeah you should respect it.
Jane May 01, 2010 07:04 am
Are we really confused or is it is easier to remain confused and keep doing what doing - it boils down to 2 facts - that rules set are enforced for some and not for others you get red carded for wearing inappropriate clothing in mall - it is unfair to younger generation as so mentioned you wouldn't allow to go to 18s movie however it seems ok to allow same generation and younger to be piled into cars without seat belts and have men and boy racers hit 140-180km on Sheikh Zayed road weaving and tail gating which is going to kill someone so we now have both sides of spectrum - BUT police cant be everywhere to spot who driving fast and who wearing short skirts but fairness is required - Men you know who you are slow down and Ladies you know who you are put on a cardigan over your vest top - if you really must wear that short denim skirt cos thats what your feeling and its your fashion way forward for the day then do it but put a pair of leggings underneath it to cover up - if we looked at it from another perspective we would welcome it - as it is way forward for ALL younder generations I am proud to be an expat living in Dubai where i do not have to see filth and foul mouthed language on TV as do at home and even more so to not see 14 and 15 year olds walking around pushing buggies so IT'S VERY CLEAR AND NO REASON TO BE CONFUSED - JUST COVER UP AND LEAVE THE BLACK VESTS WITH CEREASE PICK BRAS SHOWING TO THE BEDROOMS
Lee Harrell Apr 06, 2010 10:22 am
I currently reside in the Dubai Marina very near to where the recent issue with the British couple arrested for cheek kissing at a restaraunt on the JBR Walk. ( supposedly only witnessed by a young child at 2:00am.) The Marina has a large western expat and tourist population with beaches, resort hotels, numerous bars and nightclubs. Even after rents took a 50 percent drop in 2009, there is still a large vacancy rate in most residential buildings in the Marina. There has also been a drop in hotel occupancy rates from last year. Dubai promotes itself has the " London, New York or Paris" of the Middle East. Wouldn't think given the current financial climate, this is the very type of publicity the authorities would try to avoid. Granted, living in a Muslim country comes with a different set of laws and standards of conduct but heavy handed enforcement at 2:00am in a resort strip seems to me a bit over the top. People on boith sides need to exercise some cultural tolerance.
Basil Apr 05, 2010 08:27 am
If a white female wears the most revealing dresses nobody seems to have a problem, asians on the other hand are punished by law for wearing the same dress.
Racism or hipocracy??
Fawaz Apr 04, 2010 02:05 pm
This is unfortunate,
as Dubai always states that they are "expat friendly" and supporting the cultures of others,
The main population of Dubai are European Expats, Europe as we all know have an open minded, liberal viewpoint on dressing and beach activity as well as displays of affection.
I think this rule is very disturbing to the expat community in Dubai, Bahrain actually tolerates much more than dubai and there is a less Expat community in Bahrain than in Dubai.