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Dubai: Liberalism & the Law
Although Dubai is more liberal than its neighbours, it is still a place where regional ethics are expected to be abided. 80% of the population are expats, which by any demographic measure is a hell of a lot.
Anomalously poised in the gilded sands of the Middle East, amongst the hostile cities of ancient civilisation and the antiquated rule of Shahs and Kings, lies Dubai. Not your average Middle Eastern country. Well, not even a country anymore - an Emirate State.
Look at a photograph of Dubai twenty years ago and you will see nothing but uninhabitable natural vastness and dusty topography. Compare it with one today, however, and you'll be overwhelmed. Dubai is a horizon of contemporary architecture, Western embrace and commercial opportunity. The cultural disparity in relation to its neighbours is just as stunning. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. In Dubai, they are encouraged to open their own businesses. It is a regional pioneer in both corporate and societal progressionism, and that is why so many expatriates have decided to relocate there. Dubai is the dream: sunshine, beaches and a tax-free lifestyle.
Whatever Middle Eastern promise wins you over, though, it is important to remember that, although Dubai is indeed more liberal than its neighbours, it is still a place where regional ethics are expected to be abided. 80% of the population are expats, which by any demographic measure is a hell of a lot. An emphasis on mutual respect is, therefore, paramount.
In haste to refurbish their lives, many expatriates are often afflicted by a lack of foresight. It is imperative to remember that you're not living in the West anymore, no matter how much the UAE wants you to believe it.
Even in Dubai, antiquated theocratic dogma is still engrained in society, and although reprehension may not be as severe as other Arab nations, you will want to refrain from committing avoidable transgressions. Drug offences, although not high, carry sterner penalties than in the UK. It could result in a deportation order, if not a lengthy prison sentence. Abstaining from smoking, smacking, swallowing and snorting is probably the best policy. Dubai has a rigorous rule on drugs, and people have even been imprisoned for carrying unrecognised prescription medicines.
Conversely, alcohol is tolerated. However, the legal drinking age is 21, and there is no lenience given for those found boozing on the streets. Before arriving in Dubai, it is imperative to know that things like being drunk in public, profanity, insulting gestures and public displays of affection are all bound by the same pair of handcuffs. Likewise, if you are thinking of relocating with a member of the opposite sex and want to get a place together, then think again. Co-habiting is illegal unless you're all tied up in matrimony. And on the subject of sex, if you're gay, you may find Dubai quite medieval in comparison with Britain - again, it's outlawed.
Of course, many of these things are ignored by citizens, and there are even occasional reports of authorities choosing to waver petty crimes. But you exercise any habitual and sexual urges at your own risk. It is an ambivalent judgement call, so make it in a cerebral and respectful manner. Convenience and frivolity are generally outweighed by penance and incarceration, and no-one wants to end up as a Daily Mail headline. No-one.
Dubai, in so many ways, seems a world apart from its neighbours. The progressionist mentality of the State coupled with its futuristic architecture can often make you forget where you actually are: the oldest region in the world, the Middle East. It is an uneasy balancing act of traditional Middle Eastern ethics (such as religious modesty) and liberal Western ideas (such as individualism and tolerance). So if you are thinking of relocating to Dubai, just make sure at the top of your list is a crash-course in cultural and legal awareness. It may just save your bacon.