DUBAI PUBLIC DECENCY LAWS
Dubai is, by and large, an extremely liberal city, but it pays to bear in mind that you are visiting an Islamic country and there is an old saying, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. This advice is well worth bearing in mind when you are on holiday here, because there have been several high profile instances in the last few years of both residents and tourists getting into trouble with the authorities when their behavior has been deemed to be inappropriate.
Public decency laws are not new and have always existed in Dubai. You would be well advised not to take these laws lightly because if someone takes offence to your behaviour and reports it to the police there is a likelihood that you will be arrested and put before the courts. It is not a defence on your behalf to claim ignorance.
Offensive hand signals and swearing in public are not tolerated in Dubai. Again, there have been several reported instances where western ex-pats have been involved in driving incidents and have made a rude gesture to the other driver who has reported them to the police. Irrespective of who was initially at fault there will be no defence if you are found to have made an obscene gesture or have sworn at the other person.
RULES OF CONDUCT
In all public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts should be of appropriate length. This means that knees and shoulders should be covered. Clothing should not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans. If you are deemed to be inappropriately dressed in a shopping mall you may be served with a notice by security staff and politely, but firmly, requested to leave the mall.
Men and women should wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to Dubai’s culture when at the beach. Swimwear should not be worn away from the beach, the wearing of 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. It is not acceptable for men to walk around public areas without a shirt.
DISPLAY OF AFFECTION
Displays of affection in a public place among couples, whether married or not, does not sit well with the local culture. Holding hands for a married couple is tolerated, but kissing and petting are considered as offensive 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 a warning or fine and in some cases may lead to imprisonment or deportation.
Dubai has a very low crime rate, a significant factor for many expat residents when deciding to relocate here. The police are helpful and generally friendly if you stay on the right side of the law. When on holiday though many people tend to relax a little more and some will drink more than they would do normally, so it may be beneficial to read the following pointers.
As in most countries, it is a criminal offence to be drunk in a public place.
DRINKING AND DRIVING
There is a zero tolerance policy and if you are caught with the slightest amount of alcohol in your blood you will go to prison. Take a taxi, they are cheap and plentiful!
Don’t even think about it. If you are caught in possession of the slightest bit of cannabis you could be sent to prison for anything from four to seven years and then deported. Anyone caught importing drugs into Dubai is potentially looking at a life sentence.
An interesting recent case in June 2010 has attracted local and international publicity and involves a British DJ who was suspected of being in possession of cannabis. Although a search revealed no trace of any illegal drugs he was arrested and required to give a blood test which proved positive for the drug. His defence was that he had smoked cannabis in the UK some time before arriving in Dubai, however he was convicted here and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.