Dubai: Cosmopolitan or Conservative?

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While extravagant towers with the cream of the crop evolve around Dubai with residents of spendthrift shopping bags and trendsetter cars, others are sentenced to jail for creating cultural chaos in Dubai’s fancy restaurants, amusing malls, the chaos that stretched to text messages! Media projects also came to face serious censorship. Lately, the city is giving its cross cultural residents a hard time abiding by its conventional and conservative rules; crippling limited freedom in its cosmopolitan sphere, the thing that bent global interest towards the future of Dubai’s foreign residents.

In a passion vs. law scheme, two crimes of love were the latest in a series of cases where foreigners have been found to have broken Dubai's conservative laws in the city where more than 80 percent of the population is made up of expatriates. The latest case was when an Indian couple was landed in jail earlier this month and was sentenced to six months followed by deportation for sharing a string of steamy sexy text messages. Appeals court reduced the term and gave them the option to remain in the country. The conviction said the sexual content of the texts suggested the unidentified pair planned to "commit sin" referring to an extramarital affair, which is illegal in the United Arab Emirates. The pair, who worked as cabin crew for Emirates airlines, was not determined whether they had an affair, which would have probably brought a harsher sentence.

A kiss isn’t just a kiss in Dubai. Last November, a British couple Ayman Najafi, 24, and Charlotte Adams, 26, appealed a one-month jail sentence for exchanging a fiery kiss in a restaurant and were accused of breaching strict public decency.  According to reports, a judge at Dubai’s Misdemeanors Court heard written evidence from a witness, a 38-year-old mother who was the person who initially complained to police. She said she was offended by their behavior at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, where she was dining with her daughter. The judge dismissed the kissing couple’s claim that they had merely kissed the woman on the cheek and sentenced both defendants to a month in jail followed by deportation. The pair's lawyer, Khalaf Al-Hosany, said that the defense wanted to put forward the new witness and the judge might agree to that course of action at the hearing which would almost certainly delay the verdict. Najafi and Adams have been granted bail pending their appeal, but have had their passports confiscated so that they cannot leave the United Arab Emirates. The couple has admitted the charge of being in public after consuming alcohol, an offence in Dubai though drinking alcohol itself is not. They were fined 1,000 Dirhams, or £180, at the first hearing. The history of arrest of foreigners in Dubai lays back to 2008 when two British people were also sentenced to three months in jail for what authorities described as ‘sex on the beach’ but the sentences were later suspended.

Paris Hilton's Dubai BFF is a reality television show from Dubai where Paris Hilton searches for her new best friend in the Middle East. It is the fourth incarnation of the My New BFF franchise. Shooting started on June 17th, 2009 and shot for seventeen days in which Hilton desires to find a new BFF in a group of twenty female contestants with ten Arab citizens of Dubai, ten of other nationalities but currently living there. As Hilton has never been to Dubai before, part of the show will include her initial reactions to her first trip to the United Arab Emirates and the first episode will kick off with a social event in The BED Lounge, a club in Dubai. 

But when Paris is hot, Dubai is definitely not! Dubai TV executive, Ziad Batal explained that this version “would have to be compatible with cultural sensitivities as Hilton is known for her wild partying.” Ish Entertainment co-founder Michael Hirschhorn expanded on this, explaining that the Dubai production won't be quite as racy as the U.S. or U.K. editions. Alcohol, normally a reality TV staple, won't play a role on this version. Swearing, sexually explicit conversation or risqué clothing will be kept to a minimum. The production had to receive several layers of approval before moving forward; even Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, had to give his blessing! To avoid getting arrested in Dubai during the three-week filming of the new season of Paris Hilton's My New BFF; Hilton hired a team of "Middle Eastern cultural experts" to keep her out of jail. Of course all her history of swearing from for Paris and her former BFFs are going to be rethought again. Before leaving the States, Paris made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live where she joked about creating a Paris line of ‘See-through Burqas’. After arriving in Dubai, she even made a public promise in her first interview with members of the UAE press to adhere to the country's legal and cultural regulations. She said, "I've definitely studied on the culture here, on the rules, on what happens here because I wanted to make sure that everything was okay, and I just want to respect everyone here”. Paris had made a big public speech, saying how much she loved the Middle East and respected its culture. But the following day “she was prancing around on the beach in her bikini and posing provocatively”, reports The Daily Mirror.

On the other hand, Emirati women are rocking their media with an open mind agenda, shunning from old-fashioned rules related to women and censorship. The United Arab Emirates’ first female film producer Nayla Al Khaja is breaking new ground in the United Arab Emirates as she takes on censors and public opinion with revolutionary films that dig deep into the underground world of secret teen dating in the Muslim world as well as pedophilia. Al Khaja, 31, is developing a proposal for a talk show tackling sensitive subjects for Dubai One, the UAE’s main English-language television channel; and as a founder of Dubai-based D-Seven Motion Pictures, previously known as Dessart Productions, producing commercial material, independent documentaries and films, aspiring media ambitions will soon come to light.

As Dubai allows one of the most relaxed lifestyles in the Arab world, officials can come down hard on those accused of pushing the limits of broadmindedness which raises confusion about the criteria of taboo in this cosmopolitan piece of the Arab region.

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