Harvey Nichols, the high-end British department store, has apologised for selling T-shirts at its Dubai outlet depicting a bulldog standing on a UAE flag. The store at the Mall of the Emirates was closed briefly on Tuesday morning so staff could remove the T-shirts. Harvey Nichols blamed the situation on a blunder by one of its suppliers, which it said was an "international brand". However, some customers had already snapped photos of the T-shirt and circulated them on the social networking site Facebook.
Some people also called Arabic-language radio phone-in shows to express their disappointment with the store. In a statement, Harvey Nichols said an error by the supplier had led to the wrong design being produced and delivered. "The store treats this as a serious issue and has ensured the appropriate disposal of the merchandise," it said. "Harvey Nichols Dubai deeply regrets any offence or disrespect that may have been caused by the incorrect delivery."
A Dubai-based Harvey Nichols spokeswoman refused to identify the company making the T-shirts. She was unable to describe what the correct design should have been. "It is insulting the culture and the dignity of the country," said Dr Ibtisam al Kitbi, a professor of political science at UAE University in Al Ain, who had seen an image of the T-shirt. "I would like to know who designed it, why and how it was accepted and displayed inside the store. I think there should be some kind of punishment for the shop, perhaps a fine or a period of closure."
Although a national flag is a secular symbol, such a depiction is particularly offensive in a Muslim country because dogs are seen as impure animals, said Jihad Hashim Brown, who delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi and is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation, the privately funded research institute in Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, Islam teaches respect for those symbols that others hold dear, he said.
"The dog is definitely standing on the flag and it looks bad," he said. "It's particularly offensive." However, Mr Brown played down the significance of the blunder, saying such incidents were bound to occur from time to time in an increasingly globalised world."It's unfortunate but the store took the T-shirts off the shelves and apologised. These things happen." Young Emiratis in Dubai spoke of their shock at seeing the design but disagreed over whether there was any malicious intent behind it.
"When I first heard about the T-shirt I thought people were exaggerating but when I saw the picture I found it really offensive," said Faisal al Hadi, 25, a recruitment supervisor for Emirates Airline. "But I don't think it was done with a bad heart. It is just a cultural misunderstanding." While the bulldog is sometimes used as a British symbol, few expected it to reflect any specific nationality.
"I don't think people are associating this with any nationality. It's just about the Harvey Nichols store in Dubai," he said. However, Shamsa, a 25-year-old woman working in media sales, doubted the design was an error. "I find it really hard to believe that the company did not research the UAE before creating the merchandise," she said. "Everyone knows Emiratis are sensitive about such things. I love my country and I don't want to see an ugly dog standing on my flag."
"It is plainly obvious that the dog was on the flag, rather than behind it or next to it," said one Emirati woman who preferred not to be identified. "It is definitely offensive, and they should fire the buyer, because they must have known it was wrong and did not fit in our culture." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com