Dubai: A recent incident involving a woman seen topless on a Jumeirah public beach has sparked calls from residents for more information to be made available on the UAE's cultural environment.
With millions of tourists and thousands of new residents flocking to Dubai every year, greater awareness about and respect for the customs of the UAE is needed, say residents.
Despite being aware public nudity is illegal in the UAE, the British woman in her early twenties told Gulf News, "I knew that it wasn't the right thing to do, but I couldn't find my bikini top so I decided to go without.
"I didn't want to go all the way back to Satwa to get my top, and tried to cover up when men walked by, but there weren't too many people on the beach, so I didn't think it was a problem."
While there are signs on Dubai's public beaches detailing the rules and regulations regarding conduct on the beach, dress code is not included.
According to the director of Dubai Municipality's public parks and horticultural department, Ahmad Mohammad Abdul Karim, there are no plans at present to add dress code regulations.
"Conduct on the beach should be like it is in any public area ... we would encourage people of different nationalities to respect the culture of the UAE," he said.
Abdul Karim stressed on Dubai's reputation as a diverse and "open" city, but said that people should take others into consideration when visiting a public place such as a beach.
"These days, beaches are attracting different nationalities and attitudes."
The responsibility lies with the community as a whole, including authorities, the public, employers and hotels to explain the cultural sensitivities of the UAE, Abdul Karim said.
Currently, promotional material published in 13 languages, including "advice on clothing," is distributed by the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) in hotels and hotel apartments.
"Compared with certain parts of the Middle East, Dubai has a very relaxed dress code. At the swimming pools or on the beaches, trunks, swim-suits and bikinis are quite acceptable," Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman, DTCM's Executive Director of Media Relations said in a statement. "Visitors are required to wear in public clothes which adequately cover the body."
Responsibility also rests with visitors to find out what is appropriate and what is not, said Sherifa Madgwick, General Manager of the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding.
An Emirati businesswoman, L.A., 35, recalls being highly offended last year while she was fasting.
"I once saw a tourist during Ramadan crossing Jumeirah Beach Road wearing her bikini and eating an ice cream ... It definitely is offensive to see such incidents here because it offends the local culture ... I blame the tourists who have no consideration to learn about our culture.
"I also blame the authorities for not being more stringent with rules and regulations. All tourists should be given a booklet with guidelines of things not to do during their visit."
Khuloud, a 23-year-old UAE national from Sharjah, urged the media to do more to explain to people about the country's cultural sensitivities.
"I sometimes feel as though our culture is being overridden by others," she said. "Many people do respect that they are in an Arab and Muslim country, but many do not. I will respect those who respect me and my culture."
George Alexandro, 38, an Italian academic, said topless sunbathing does not offend him, but women who do it are probably unaware that it is inappropriate.
"I think some people do not know how offensive it can be. I have seen women go topless in hotels in Dubai and sometimes even at Jumeirah Beach Park," said Alexandro, adding that the time may have come for 'No Nudity' signs to be placed on beaches.
Violators face six-month imprisonment
According to UAE lawyer Mohammad Al Shaiba, "public indecency" - including excessively revealing clothing and nudity - is prohibited in public spaces under UAE law and carries stiff penalties.
As per Article 358 of the Penal Code, Federal Law No 3 of 1987, amended by Federal Law No 34 of 2005, "anyone who commits any indecent acts in public will be penalised by imprisonment for a period of no less than six months."
Have your say
Should people who violate a country's cultural code be penalised? What action would you suggest against such people? Should the authorities issue a dress code for beaches? Make your voice part of the dialogue at firstname.lastname@example.org
If a headscarf is not allowed for Muslim students in France, and a Muslim teacher cannot take a class wearing a veil in the UK, in Gulf countries at least it should be restricted for any one to walk topless or naked.
Every tourist and expatriate should understand the cultural and religious significance and not ignore value, beliefs, morals, ethics etc in a multi-cultural environment.
Let us compare the new French law, in a well-respected land of human rights, barring Muslim girls wearing a headscarf from getting education in public schools, although it is their full right to get such education and they are not offending anyone, and a minority of westerners coming to a Muslim country and not giving a damn about the hosts? Cultural distinctions. This is giving rise to the rejection of the other, which is no good for any body. In addition, a local law barring nudity, affecting a minority of tourists, will not hurt tourism, especially if good communication channels are set to inform such tourists about the cultural differences.
Wherever someone goes, he or she should respect the culture of the place they are visiting. Not showing respect is not due to lack of awareness. We are in the 21st century! It is just bad manners.
I respect UAE's cultural and religious tolerance when compared to other nations, including my own country, India . We, as expats, making our daily bread from this nation, MUST have a sense of responsibility to the UAE's culture as well. Partial nudity has become a common thing in the UAE and these offenders are not respecting the culture of this country and its rulers. There should be strict and stringent dress codes as we are in a mixed community with people from all over the world.
I blame the authorities for not being able to implement strict rules regarding this issue and allowing people to do whatever they wish not caring about others' culture and religion. Going to Jumeirah beach and enjoying with our children is unthinkable.
Well, its human perception - how we see things around us. The UAE has a multi-ethnic and multi-national population. At times, a few visitors/tourists try to be bit odd. That does not mean the majority don't care about cultural sensitivity. I have been living in this part of world for the past 20 years and I do go to beach with my daughters and seldom have I noticed such unbearable incidents. We ought to ignore it instead of blaming the authorities or others. They are doing their very best to maintain the best harmony available for humankind.
Dubai's economy is mainly focused on tourists from different parts of the world. So it should be flexible. If they impose certain laws, many people will choose European countries to visit, rather than Dubai. Many tourists choose Dubai because despite being an Arabic country, it is flexible and has a high social security.
Was the woman punished for such show? She should be punished immediately and repatriated.
I totally agree with the concept of Dubai as an "open" city. Yes, it is every individual's responsibility to understand and respect cultures.
Being an Islamic state, there should be a dress code and tourists should be guided on that. I personally love beaches but for the last two years I have stopped visiting Jumeirah beach for this very reason. I feel as if I am in a place where my culture is at risk. A country that does not preserve its culture can never reach the height of success. So I think, it's high time now to realize this fact and do the needful in this regard.
Every country has their own rules and regulations, that should obayed by each person in that country.
Yes. People should realise that they are not in western European or North America and learn Muslim values. It is common sense. If Europeans or North Americans feel uncomfortable with women wearing hijabs, then they need to realise that going topless in Dubai also causes discomfort.
They fight against wearing Hijab in Europe.
Openness exceeding the rational limits absolutely does not imply civilization but loss of decency and sense.
As this is an Islamic country, in every way, we should all abide by the rules of Islam and UAE.
As a Muslim living in a Muslim country I sometimes wonder why the authorities really have to be so flexible with people who do not respect cultures of an Islamic country. Nudity is offensive to a Muslim. I have stopped going to beaches where women and men are almost nude. Bikinis must be banned on beaches - they can wear them inside hotel pools or their private pools - but not in a public place. Beaches are for all nationalities and not for people to show their skin and than get offended by onlookers. This is enough to prove that these women have no respect for our culture and dress code sensitiveness. The only thing authorities could do is to educate them.
If we are not strict and clear about our culture; how you expect a complete stranger to follow it? More awareness should be in place about the culture and Islamic laws as the majority in UAE are Muslims. How about to distributing small leaflets/booklets at all airports/ports to non-Muslim tourists to educate them about our culture?
Ignorance of law, needless to mention, is not an excuse. I don't think the British girl who said that she did not want all the way back to Satwa to get her top had an excuse. I think some booklets about the culture and customs of the country before landing in and at airports and hotels will make the people who are coming in know more about it so that they can stick to the idiom "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
As far as the dress code is a part of the UAE's national identity as Islamic country, there must be strict rules and notations about that, then the tourists will even respect the country more than ever!
You know, they are mostly European or Australian, they have unlimited freedom at home, its a new experience for them, learning more about a long standing culture of Middle-East.
But, unlike Iran, there must be no control on dressing in the private places at all, I believe.
Every person has his own life to live but I would say that one should respect our tradition. The municipality should work hard to make them aware. This will harm the culture of UAE Arabs.
I believe that expats and tourists must respect the culture of the UAE and must stay within their limits. Since they are free to do so in some parts of the world doesn't mean that nudity can be accepted by every country. Being in an Arab country, we need to keep up societal standards. I hope that such a situation is not repeated.
What about tolerance for the culture and religion of different people? What about freedom? Can we look at this from a different perspective? What is the harm if someone wants to tan? Or sunbathe?
Strict dress code should be promulgated by the UAE authorities in all public places as is done in Saudi Arabia.
I wonder what would have happened if this young woman couldn't find her bikini bottom instead of the top?
She would have still gone to the beach half naked I suppose..
Yes, I believe they should be penalised for walking topless on a beach or any other place. A fine should do with a warning of a harsher punishment if it is committed again.
I've lived in Dubai for four years and was happy about the culture. I think there should be a dress code for beaches because the authorities should preserve the Arab culture. Tourists should be more aware of the rules and respect the country's culture.
How can you go to the beach all dressed? If you're following the appropriate dress code, as deemed necessary, then I would say that the dress code in beaches is bikinis. It doesn't make sense to me when its said that Dubai is the fastest-growing emerging country, or may be a developed country by now, and attract tourists from all over the world, keep up international standards in all aspects and still be bogged down by such a trivial matter. Come on, wake up. Who wants to go to a beach fully dressed up?
In my opinion there should be a dress code at the beach. Visitors who are coming to UAE are from different parts of the world and they need to respect the country's dress code.
I think that it is kind of sad that there are many people who don't respect UAE culture. I feel many Emiratis probably cannot go to many of the beaches and feel comfortable taking their sons and daughters where there are many men and women not wearing much of anything.
It's a sad day when a person in his or her own country has to feel uncomfortable going out to places.
As a Muslim living in the USA, I have to respect a lot of the cultural diversity in America. For example, we -Muslims -in the USA are not allowed to say Athan ( prayer call) from mosques to outside...And there are a lot of things we cannot do because of the American Christian and some Jewish habits. I think the UAE is a Muslim country and Muslims are still the majority. So there should be a booklet given to visitors. Do not go to Islamic countries if you do not think you can respect their religion.
I definitely agree about respecting UAE customs. Women have to be well dressed in public areas, especialy shopping malls.
People are not allowed to be topless on the beaches in any country like US, UK etc. except at nude beaches. For other beaches, there is a dress-code and women are forbidden to be topless. And, violators are prosecuted (given a fine, etc). Hence, I do not understand why she thinks her bizarre behavior is acceptable in the UAE!!
Instead of punishing people who don't know the culture of the countries they are visiting, it's the duty of the travel agents to tell them.
I think that everybody should respect our religion and culture. The woman didn't even apologise for the incident. She said that she didn't find her bikini top, so she decided to go topless. What a stupid thing to say. Please respect the country you are in...
Such incidents may only rise with tourists, who may not be aware of such cultural issues, and those tourists who are used to nudity on beaches elsewhere. Therefore, penalty is not appropriate, but authorities should have people immediately inform them when such incident happens. Also, information on publications, etc will prevent most of such incidents. Sign boards will help as well.
I think those who violate with intention should be made to pay a fine or something. And I think if a bikini is too revealing, it's better with a bathing suit which covers more.