It is the most liberal city in the UAE, but expats in Dubai who do not respect Islamic culture can expect harsh treatment
The case of Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer, and what they did or did not get up to on Jumeirah Beach, has grabbed world attention.
The old adage that sex sells newspapers is partly the reason for this interest, but it is the contrast between what people perceive to be a conservative Islamic culture in the Arab world and what passes for a more liberal attitude in Britain that has turned an otherwise story of a drunken escapade into front page news.
We will never really know what did happen on the beach, whether the Dubai police officer gave this amorous couple the opportunity to beat a retreat or whether they did get shirty with the police officer, leading to their arrest.
On 16 October 2008 though, Acors and Palmer were handed a three month jail sentence, a small fine and were told that they will be deported after serving their sentence.
Dubai is extremely welcoming and tolerant. It is the most liberal city in the Gulf States, where a western lifestyle can very easily be lived alongside those living to Islamic principles.
Generally, the police and authorities do an excellent job of balancing the two competing lifestyles and all that is asked for in return is respect and courteous behaviour. Most expats accept that this is not a burdensome obligation to take on for the privileged, tax free, lifestyle they lead in the UAE and would probably agree that for what they were accused of doing, Acors and Palmer got away lightly with a three month jail sentence.
The real hardship, however, is arguably not the jail sentence but (bad publicity aside) the speed at which Michelle Palmer lost her job, her deportation and the inability to return to where she has been earning a living for the past few years. That’s where the real lessons are to be learned.
We all know the rules, and they aren’t difficult to follow: what is not acceptable in Britain is not acceptable here. Acors and Palmer strayed way over the line and the judge trying their case had a difficult task on his hands – reminding those living and working in the UAE that, as visitors, they must show respect for Dubai’s cultural values, but at the same time being pragmatic in the sentence passed.
Life in Dubai goes on unchanged, much as it did before Acors and Palmer made the front pages. Friday champagne brunches continue, couples go out and the bars are full, but the fate of these two individuals, serves as a reminder to those working in the Gulf that standards of respect and courtesy are no less in Dubai than they are elsewhere.
Over step the mark though, and as this case demonstrates, tolerance is short lived.
Mark Blanksby is a partner at Clyde & Co in Dubai