x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

National dress code high on cultural agenda

Friendly recommendations on appropriate clothing for the UAE may not be enough anymore, and a line needs to be drawn.

A Twitter campaign by two Emiratis has reached the FNC, leading to calls for government legislation.

What am I talking about? A national dress code. Judging by the number of letters I receive asking me for advice on what to wear, and when, the issue is high on our cultural agenda.

And a survey taken for The National's website shows that many believe there is a problem. More than half of those polled said they saw someone dressed improperly every day.

The UAE has always been a tolerant place. We respect cultural differences, and understand that the lifestyles of our guests and expat residents might differ from ours. This is fine, as long as there is a common understanding of who is the host and who is the guest. There are bars and nightclubs in the UAE. We as Emiratis do not really need these places but they exist to give our guests and expats as much opportunity to spend their free time as they choose.

The problem is we have been tolerant towards ignorance regarding our cultural codes in terms of public decency. This ignorance has now reached a critical point. Now, it appears that friendly recommendations are no longer enough, and a line needs to be drawn.

According to our survey, while only four out of 10 thought the problem was geting worse, six out of 10 thought expats and non-Muslims failed to show cultural sensitivity when it came to choosing what to wear in public.

As of now, we don't know if our rulers will really go as far as to draft a "dress-code" law. I guess what will transpire will be a strongly worded statement concerning decency in general. This should make formal legislation unnecessary.

Standards of dress is one issue, but indecent behaviour in public is another, and I would expect to see a new law focus not only on the length of mini-skirts but also on public behaviour.

But judging all expats is not fair, and it would be a gross error to stick to stereotypes, especially during Ramadan. I know a great number of non-Muslims who feel inspired by the experience of Ramadan to give fasting a try. No, it would not be fair to point fingers at all expats, while in reality the ones who create this confrontational situation do so out of ignorance.

The intention of a possible decency code is not to punish all expats but to clarify what our standards and expectations are in this country with regard to tradition and culture.

I hope people will bear that in mind during Ramadan, and this will help us to deal with the situation without force of the law.