Dubai/Abu Dhabi: Prominent UAE personalities have weighed in on a campaign calling on people to dress modestly after it became a trending topic on the social networking site Twitter.
The hashtag (#UAEDressCode) has been active in the last 48 hours with noted Emirati personalities including activist Jalal Bin Thaneya (@Binthaneya) and current affairs commentator Mishaal Al Gergawi (@algergawi) lending their voice in support of the campaign.
The online drive was spearheaded by two Emirati women who were shocked to see scantily-clad women when they visited Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi and The Dubai Mall.
Hanan Al Rayes (@noonworld) and Asma Al Muhairi (@simplyAsma) started the campaign a couple of weeks ago.
Hanan, who works in administration in Al Ain, told Gulf News that she was shocked when she visited Marina Mall.
"There were women who had come straight from the beach covered with nothing more than a sarong. I also saw women with really short skirts that didn't fully conceal their undergarments. It was disgusting. [On Saturday] I went to Dubai Mall and saw women dressed in shorts that could pass as hot pants."
The incidents provided enough impetus for Hanan and Asma to start the campaign. They launched the drive by composing tweets using the #UAEDressCode hashtag.
"Soon our friends were spreading the word too," said Hanan, adding that she wonders whether it is a lack of awareness that could explain the situation. "I understand that it is summer, but it doesn't allow for disrespectful clothing," she said.
Asma, a marketing professional in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News: "The same incidents happen to our friends. It is a typical sight at malls, and sometimes it encourages lecherous stares. It is shameful, especially for families with kids."
Their friend, Laila (@lilCat84), an Emirati who works for the government, has been actively supporting the campaign.
She told Gulf News: "We know that we have different cultures and religion, but dress code is something worldwide. No one accepts a lady walking in public wearing improper clothes." Laila added that the UAE's culture is conservative and that it is important for expatriates to be aware of this fact.
"It isn't appropriate to see a lady in minis or shorts or transparent clothing in a mall. I work in a government office where the security prohibits women from entering if they are dressed indecently."
Nasif Kayed, general manager at the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding, said he chooses age-appropriate movies for his kids, but when he visits the mall, he cannot control what they are exposed to.
"Why do women wear immodest clothes in a public space like a mall? I hope expatriates realise that we are a country that promotes tolerance and respect. Women should dress appropriately and modestly."
Gulf News sought out Emiratis and expatriates for their views.
"We see more shorts, short skirts and dresses not only in the evening at restaurants and nightclubs, but every day and everywhere. It doesn't shock me personally, but I am not sure how this is valued by the families here in the UAE," said Hana, a Lebanese.
Emiratis find it extremely disrespectful and shocking.
Sultan Al Mazroui calls on the authorities to create laws and regulations that control such behaviour.
"Expatriates should understand that they live in an Arab and Muslim country and should honour its traditions. I urge the authorities to put in place laws that regulate this serious phenomenon," he said.
Mohammad Abdullah, an Emirati, told Gulf News that the issue is not a matter of respect for personal freedom, but rather respect for a country's traditions and norms.
"People don't really intentionally want to embarrass themselves or the people they are living among. The UAE is presented to Westerners as a very open and welcoming country. So, it is easy to assume that almost everything people wear in New York is OK to wear in Abu Dhabi. And, when one sees the many others who have similar attire, it is normal to assume that this form of dressing is acceptable" said Anthony, an American.
UAE dress code
Abu Dhabi: Do expatriates observe the national dress code, understand the UAE spirit, and respect the traditions? Some voiced concerns about the inappropriate way expatriates and tourists dress, that is too revealing and shows no respect to the host country values.
In an interview published in 999 Magazine - the official English monthly of the Ministry of Interior - the British Ambassador to the UAE, Dominic Jermey OBE urged expatriates and tourists to show more understanding and respect to the UAE dress codes.
"It is really important for expats and tourists to understand the norms of the society they are in. So that is why we work very closely with tour operators, local schools, and the airlines to run a global campaign called ‘Know Before You Go.' The campaigns fosters awareness among tourists and expatriates so that they enjoy their stay in the UAE, but in a way that is appropriate," Obe said.
In a previous article published in the magazine's February issue, 72 per cent of expats admitted to having insufficient knowledge about the UAE's local customs and traditions.
It is not too hard to quickly recognise that the culture of the UAE and the region is far more conservative than those of the west. While most people practice acceptable behaviours, there are some who choose to go beyond what is considered reasonable in the host country and risk embarrassment to themselves and their hosts, and in some cases risk breaking the law.