Beach sex trial highlights Dubai cultural divide

Tue Sep 23, 2008 9:10pm EDT
 
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By Raissa Kasolowsky and Lin Noueihed

DUBAI (Reuters) - Sex on the beach or drunken trysts may not raise eyebrows in many cities, but a recent case in Dubai has exposed a growing cultural divide between native Muslims and Western residents seeking fun in the sun.

The story of a British pair facing possible jail terms on charges of having drunken sex on the beach made headlines around the world, but in Dubai, reports are frequent of hapless foreigners falling foul of local laws that strictly control drinking and ban homosexuality or kissing in public.

Dubai's foreign population has expanded rapidly in recent years, dwarfing the native population, as the Gulf Arab trade and tourism hub tries to put itself on the international map with a promise of tax-free earnings and year-round sunshine.

But balancing its Muslim identity in what remains a deeply conservative Gulf Arab region with the lifestyles of expatriates who comprise over 90 percent of its population is no mean feat.

"Everybody who lives in this country, whether they are citizens or expats, can sense how massively difficult it is to be a minority in your own country and feel such pressure on your habits, your language, your religion," said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, an Emirati political scientist.

Residents from the Indian subcontinent, mainly laborers, almost certainly comprise the largest group in Dubai but the issue is so sensitive that the government of the United Arab Emirates did not release a breakdown of national origins in the results of its last census.

"We are at the point where we need to talk about this frankly," said Abdullah. "We feel that our identity and all its components are under threat... The fundamentals of the entire growth model need to be rethought to fit our demographic needs."

Dubai has nurtured an image as a glamorous, cosmopolitan city with ambitious projects such as the world's tallest tower, yet its 80,000 or so nationals feel their values are eclipsed.   Continued...

 
<p>A veiled woman looks on as shoppers walk by in a shopping mall in Dubai in this picture taken September 23, 2008. Sex on the beach or drunken trysts may not raise eyebrows in many cities, but a recent case in Dubai has exposed a growing cultural divide between native Muslims and Western residents seeking fun in the sun. Picture taken September 23. To match feature DUBAI-SEX/ REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>