Monday, December 8, 2008

Dubai: Sex Double Standards

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -Last summer, at a lavish party thrown by the company I was working for in Dubai, the guests were warned we would burn in hell unless we obeyed our boss. Alcohol was not involved: the directors had flown in a respected cleric from Iraq to deliver a moral message to employees. The core of his rhetoric involved a one-way trip into a pit of fire, and he meant it all quite literally.

The lecture was typical of the sort of moral and religious views that are colliding headlong with the modern world in the United Arab Emirates – a problem highlighted by the very public trial of two Britons who allegedly had sex on a beach. The laws and morals widely applied in the UAE (the country's stances on homosexuality and cohabiting couples are particularly backward; the position on public indecency less so) are simply not compatible with the country's population, 90% of which is foreign, many of whom are lured to the kingdom by tax-free wages and sun – two ingredients for having a very good time.

Of course, local laws need to be heeded, even if you disagree with them. But the local media's depiction of the British pair as morally bankrupt and their subsequent letting-off by the Dubai appeal court judge – they will merely be deported – poses the awkward question of how far such moral values can (and should) be imposed on a population that has a very different demographic from that of the leaders who establish and enforce the law. The UAE relies on foreign workers to run the country and its industries but, according to Dubai's moral code, most shouldn't even be in the country (or at least in jail) if they're living with a girlfriend or boyfriend or have made a public display of affection towards someone of the opposite sex. (Unless you're two Arab male friends, in which case it is quite usual to walk along the street holding hands. That one threw me for a while.)

Walk down the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai's main thoroughfare, and you'll find prostitutes, many of them Thai, touting for business in the early hours. Further away from the main city centre, Russian prostitutes entertain a rich clientele in clubs. This goes on in every major city in the world, but Dubai ruthlessly clamps down on certain behaviour – minor public indecency for example – while completely ignoring blatant corruption of other laws, as embodied by the sex workers on the streets. One hand punishes those who break certain aspects of their moral code; the other massages and encourages those who are doing something far more harmful...


No comments:

Post a Comment