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Emiratis v. Foreigners in UAE Malls

06 July, 2012 18:30  Erin Erin

abaya emiratis The United Arab Emirates is home to many foreign workers. It is to the point that only about ten percent of the 8 million people who live there Emirati citizens. Western expats, Asian, African and Middle Eastern guest workers all reside, work, and live in the country. While this has helped to make it one of the world's wealthiest nations, there are culture clashes. The latest culprit in the rising summer heat has been skimpy clothing.

The Ap reports that Asma al-Muhairi is trying to do something about this in her hometown of Abu Dhabi. The 23-year-old, abaya wearing (robe-like dress worn by some women in parts of the Islamic world) marketing worker describes the offensive clothing as,

"While going to a mall, I saw two ladies wearing ... I can't say even shorts. It was underwear".

Fearing the impression this look makes on her young nieces, al-Muhairi and another Emirati woman, Hanan al-Rayes, created a Twitter handle to show their concern and rally the local minority. The group, @UAEDressCode, aims to explore ways to combat the growing number of shoppers in low-cut dresses and hot pants. With a current following of 3,500 - it show that these two are not alone.

"I think in an increasingly tumultuous region and in an era of powerful and often intrusive globalizing forces, citizens of the UAE are increasingly concerned that their traditions and core values are being eroded... In some senses, it is a grassroots reaction to authorities and leaders that have for many years done little to check this erosion,"
said Christopher Davidson, an expert on Gulf affairs at Britain's Durham University.

This is only the latest offense to cause a reaction in the UAE. The UAE has a strict indecency code which limits drinking to bars and nightclubs, bans public displays of affection, and frowns on premarital sex. While these other behaviors have been outlawed, there is no specific mandate when it comes to clothing.

This issue has been avoided thus far because many Emiratis rarely come face-to-face with misbehaving foreigners. The malls, however, welcome everyone in the brutal 40 degree (Celsius; 104 Fahrenheit) and over weather. Most malls have policies for "conservative" dress and encourage shoppers to avoid showing shoulders and knees, but few publicize them or enforce them. Police are similarly uninclined to help as there are no specific laws against immodest dress.

"People were seeing it for a long time but they didn't say anything... You can't go to the police for such stuff. There is no one to go to. You can't go to the mall management. The mall security guard gets paid less than someone at McDonald's. He isn't going to do anything,"
said Jalal Bin Thaneya, an Emirati activist who has embraced the dress code campaign.

What are your thoughts about this clash of cultures? Have you experienced something similar? What do UAE Expats think? Share your thoughts in the comment section.


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