Having worked in Dubai for over 10 years, one of the things that constantly amazes me about visitors to the Emirate is that they think they have landed in some sort of desert version of Las Vegas, where everything goes.
Well, as British IT consultant Jamil Ahmed Mukadam has found out - it is anything but.
In fact Dubai is very conservative, with locals constantly using their status to remind visitors that when in Dubai...you behave.
Mukadam potentially faces up to 6 months in jail. His crime?
Sticking up his middle finger to a driver who has tailgating him and flashing his lights into his rearview mirror.
He forgot all about the incident until he was detained at Dubai border control and his passport seized after arriving in the country for another break. The driver he gestured towards had obviously made a note of his rental license plate and informed the police.
He was detained at Bur Dubai police station for two days before being bailed, He is currently stuck in Dubai, awaiting trial.
When this happens in Dubai, the power is in the hands of the Emiratis. Contradicting a local is almost impossible. You have no choice other than to go to court where, again, to try and argue your case would be very difficult if not impossible.
It is for this reason that perhaps Mukadam has already stated he will be pleading guilty in the hope of avoiding a sentence,
According to The Guardian, Mukadam's lawyer, Radha Stirling, says the chances of a jail sentence was very real, with previous reports of tourists and expats being imprisoned for breaking the emirate’s strict behaviour laws.
“They’ll formally charge him and then he’ll receive a court date in four to six weeks. He’s going to plead guilty. He’s going to admit to it, and write a letter to the court. There’s almost no point in defending against this – the maximum sentence is six months and hiring a lawyer out there could cost between £10,000 and £20,000."
“He has been charged under federal laws with offensive behaviour and the complaint states that he raised his middle finger at another driver. The sentencing guidelines say that he could be imprisoned for up to six months, receive a fine and deportation. In other cases we have assisted with, the defendant has been fined. However, there are a number of reports of tourists and expats receiving custodial sentences of between one and six months.”
All this because of a middle finger? Yes, the laws in Dubai and the UAE are very strict over public decency.
What we would see in Europe as being mildly offensive can be taken to extremes in the Arab world, where even the tiniest slight on someone's honour can lead to massive legal headaches.
Most tourists will be completely unawares of such laws due to the poor job the Emirates do in informing visitors of expected standards - not wanting to scare away visitors with scary 'sharia' inspired laws.
So, a word of warning for anyone going to Dubai - it is not Las Vegas, In hotels you may have some wiggle-room in terms of your behaviour, but outside those walls in the real Dubai, the laws and expectations are very different.
Want more cultural info on Dubai and The UAE? Check out our UAE Insight which provides a comprehensive overview of the culture, etiquette and tips on how to behave when visiting or doing business in the Emirate.
You may also be interested in this online cultural awareness course on the UAE for professionals working in/with the region.