The UAE may be the Gulf’s most liberal Arab state but two local women have caused a stir with an online campaign against the “repulsive” habit of Western women to reveal too much flesh in public.
Hanan al-Rayyes and Asma al-Muheiri say their “UAE Dress Code” campaign is designed to promote “respect for the country’s culture” among foreigners and raise awareness about what locals consider appropriate dress and behaviour.
They argue that the UAE’s Western residents and millions of tourists each year often dress in skimpy outfits, show too much flesh and kiss in public, all of which are unacceptable for its conservative and Islamic culture.
“I saw a woman at the mall wearing very short shorts and she looked repulsive,” said Muheiri, who along with Rayyes launched the campaign on the online microblogging site Twitter this month.
Notices at entrances to malls in the United Arab Emirates warn shoppers to dress modestly, while signs depict how much skin visitors are allowed to reveal. But the guidelines are often ignored.
Muheiri said she reported one woman to the mall management, only to be told there was nothing they could do.
Frustrated, she posted a tweet about the incident and triggered “a lot of responses supporting my position.”
As far as Muheiri and her supporters are concerned, foreigners in the UAE should respect local customs. If not, they should be fined.
A Twitter search for #UAEdresscode reveals a barrage of comments, both for and against the campaign.
“Every Expat in UAE must respect the country culture … as we respect ur country rules & laws, u shud do the same in return,” reads one posting.
“Forbidding tank tops/skirts in the malls in UAE is as ridiculous as forbidding the Niqab in the streets in
France,” said another posting, referring to French laws which ban Muslim women from covering their face.
One posting calls on those who do not respect the local dress code to go elsewhere. “Expats/Tourists, Nobody’s pointing a gun at u & force u to live/visit here. If u can’t stand the LOCAL values & law, then LEAVE.”
Rayyes said the actions of those who violate their view of “decent” dress were “uncivilised,” such as women at shopping centres dressed in “nothing more than a shirt” or “mini shorts that reveal their underwear.”
“I don’t accept this and I won’t stay quiet about it,” she said.
Emiratis are traditionally conservative. The overwhelming majority of local women wear the full black veil, revealing only their hands and face, while most men wear the traditional white cloak known as the “thawb.”
But they are also a minority in their own country. According to latest government estimates, only about 11 percent of the UAE’s 8.2 million population are Emirati nationals.
Local psychologist Nadia Bouhanad says the campaign reflected a “a fear by Emiratis that they might lose their social values.”
The campaign has caused a stir in the country, attracting hundreds of posts and the attention of the local press. The Twitter account @UAEDressCode as of Thursday had 420 followers.
One campaign supporter, who identified himself as Ibn Thaleth, insisted the campaign was not an attack on foreigners in the UAE.
“They (foreigners) are allowed to do all sorts of things that we don’t agree with,” Ibn Thaleth told AFP. “We are not against them … We are just asking them to show our culture a little respect.”
Alcohol, though forbidden in Islam, is readily available throughout the year in bars, clubs and restaurants attached to hotels in most of the UAE.
Pork is also sold in supermarkets in a separate section marked “for non-Muslims only.”
The campaign’s logo — a red circle with a black, short-sleeve, knee-length dress — is widely recognised in the UAE. It is the same image posted on signs in malls urging women to “please wear respectful clothing.”
[A foreign woman sunbathes near an Emirati couple on a beach in Dubai on May 21. AFP Photo/Karim Sahib]