Public decency in Dubai

Still confused about Dubai’s dress code and public decency laws? Laura Chubb meets the director of the Criminal Control Department

Interview, Area Guides

Two weeks ago we reported on the firmer line that the authorities are taking on public indecency and dress code laws in Dubai. It seems many expats are confused about exactly what is and what isn’t allowed by law, so we wanted to hear what the police had to say. The director of the Criminal Control Department, Major Rashed AAB Al-Falasi, invited us to his office in the Dubai Police headquarters to discuss it. We found him friendly, frank and fair. Here’s what he had to say.

We want to talk about public decency and dress code laws in Dubai.
First of all, let me say this. We open the door for people to come into this country and we are happy for them to come here. But in my country – an Arab country, a Muslim country – there are rules. These rules must be followed. Just because we’ve opened the doors, it doesn’t mean people can do as they like. They must respect our rules and the traditions of an Islamic country.

We agree. But some people are confused: despite signs in malls that ask for respectful clothing, you still see some wearing short skirts and strapless tops.
It’s dictated by the time and the place. Certain things that are not acceptable for the street or the shopping mall are acceptable on the beach. We want you to enjoy the beach, whether you’re swimming or tanning or whatever. At night, if a lady is going to a nightclub, we know it’s an outfit for a nightclub. We know she’s going to a party with her friends and that she’ll be in a club. But if she wears this outfit in a mall, it is not acceptable. She is going there to shop. She is wearing that outfit for show. We do not accept this. Some people get away with it, though. That may be why some expats are confused.

We cannot put policemen [everywhere in the city] to check what people are wearing. But we are Muslim and there are complaints coming from the people. Muslim people are seeing a man grab a lady and start to kiss her [in public]. You keep your child from going to a movie if he’s under 18 [because of what he might see], but he sees the movie now, he’s seeing it in real life. That’s a problem. So what are the exact rules about public displays of affection?

We’re not [against] the kind of kiss where you see your friends in the street and you’re saying hi with a kiss. That’s normal. What is not normal is sitting in a romantic atmosphere and [displaying romantic feelings by kissing and touching amorously] – this is a private feeling. You cannot do it in the street, in public. If you do it in public, it means you want to show it. That’s not good. You’re in an Arabic country. This romantic feeling is a private feeling between each other.

So is it acceptable to hold hands in the street?
Arabic locals hold their ladies’ hands. That’s okay. Holding hands in the street – we will not do anything. But that’s enough. If you’re kissing and kissing – one minute, two minutes, three minutes, and you keep doing it, you make a habit of it – that’s very dangerous [because it will encourage other people to think it’s okay, and it’s not].

One reader said she didn’t feel the laws are communicated well enough, and that expats should be given a list of the rules with their visas. What do you think?
How can we say, ‘in a club wear this, here wear this…’? It’s common sense. People know. If you’re going to work, you wouldn’t wear a very short skirt because you respect your work. So a shopping mall needs that respect. There is a sign in the shopping mall, so people know they should not dress like that. Just like you can’t smoke. It’s the same.

But do you think the exact laws are clear enough?
People are coming to our country and they are very happy to come here. They do good business in our country. They know the rules for business. But how to respect our country, they don’t know the rules? If they are educated about the rules of business, they should also be educated about this.

Are more people breaking these rules nowadays?
Most people are following the rules. The signs in shopping malls mean that people know now. We put signs up to protect them – a lot of ladies are exposed to sexual assault because bad people will look at a lady [who dresses inappropriately] in a certain way.

We want to change people’s minds about the police. We don’t want people to have bad feelings about the police, that the police are only there to catch you. We have a victim support programme. We will help you with cases, we will send people to see you and help you and give you support. This programme is for all people. If you have any trouble, we are with you. But because we are giving expatriates protection and safety, they should respect our religion, our traditions, and our rules.
For more information on the police’s victim support programme, call 800 8989 for free.

You tell us: the law and you

We had a lot of responses to our recent report about public decency in Dubai. Here are just a few.

‘It is to be expected that Westerners will ignore and disrespect our laws. We should be the example, not the enforcer.’
Qasim Amin

‘If they are so hot on decent dress, why do they have mannequins in shop windows wearing skimpy outfits?’
Emma Brooks

‘Because, Emma, skimpy dresses are okay in the privacy of your own home and friends’ homes. What is NOT okay is having your behind hanging out or cleavage spilling over in public. Is this really so difficult to understand? You are in a Muslim country, have some respect.’

‘I reside in Dubai Marina very near to where the British couple were recently arrested for kissing at a restaurant. Granted, living in a Muslim country comes with a different set of laws, but heavy-handed enforcement at 2am in a resort strip seems to me a bit over the top. People on both sides need to exercise some cultural tolerance.’
Lee Harrell

‘This is how Dubai should have gone a long time ago. We thank the government for taking action.’

‘I saw a young couple at The Irish Village the other day lip-locking for 10 seconds at least. So the question is, where were the police on this matter? Not reported means they get away with it? I guess this decency rule can be quite confusing – where is the line drawn?’

‘I can understand how utterly confusing it is for people who do not naturally dress conservatively in public to observe decency laws, as they’re not universally enforced. But remember that it IS offensive for me and many others to see you display so much flesh. Just because we don’t tell you off in the street doesn’t mean we approve of clothing that shows too much. ’

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