x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

Emirati girls launch campaign over tourist dress code

Foreigners' inappropriate outfits in shopping malls sparks demand for malls to adopt and enforce tighter rules out of respect for cultural modesty.

Shoppers wear a variety of outfits at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai on Sunday.
Shoppers wear a variety of outfits at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai on Sunday.
The sight of scantily clad shoppers showing too much flesh has prompted two Emirati women to call for a dress code in malls.

Tired of seeing tourists in beachwear or revealing outfits, Hanan Al Rayyes and Asma Al Muheiri launched their UAE Dress Code Campaign on Twitter.

Ms Al Rayyes, 27, said the initiative was "not about changing the law", but about raising awareness of existing rules and respect for Emirati society.

"We don't want people to start wearing the abaya or anything, we're just asking them to cover up parts of the body that are sensitive to our culture," she said.

The friends posted their first tweets last week out of "disgust" at seeing foreigners dressed inappropriately.

Too many girls in the malls were "wearing shorts so short they looked like hot pants", said Ms Al Rayyes.

They have asked their group of Twitter followers, which has reached almost 600, to offer ideas for a brochure they hope malls will adopt as an official set of rules for appropriate clothing. The campaign has attracted local and international attention, with "many negative reactions" from people in other countries, said Ms Al Rayyes, who works as an administrative assistant in Al Ain.

Lt Col Mohammed Rashid Al Muhairi, from Dubai Police's Tourist Security Department (TSD), said it was important that the millions of visitors who come to the UAE each year are safe and understand local laws and culture.

He said the TSD was "trying its best to find a balance and build a bridge between the law and the needs" of visitors.

"We have to take into consideration that there are a lot of nationalities coming here, which means we have to be flexible," he added.

Police will only approach those whose outfits border on nudity, said Lt Col Al Muhairi.

He added that people from other Arab countries often "take advantage" of the freedoms they are allowed in the UAE.

"Sometimes people are wearing bikinis in the malls. I don't think that is normal anywhere, even in western countries," he said.

The TSD distributes its own code of conduct handbook for tourists at airports and in taxis and hotels. But Lt Col Al Muhairi said these were snapped up as quickly as they were distributed, so were hard to find.

Most police officers are multilingual and deal with a lot of different nationalities. But Lt Col Al Muhairi said they avoid coming into contact with tourists as much as possible to "avoid interfering with people's lives".

"We made Dubai a tourism destination," he said. "It's like opening up a shop - if you are attracting a lot of customers, you have to look at their needs."

The law does not include an exact ruling on how to dress in public, which can create confusion, said Dubai-based lawyer Haider Hassan.

"The law is vague when it comes to clothing, so people cannot be arrested for wearing what they want," he added.

Mr Hassan said the closest law was article 358 of the Federal Penal Law No 3 1987, which stipulated that a suspect who committed an indecent gesture in public faced a minimum of six months in jail.

Mohammed Hussein, an Emirati customer service officer at the Dubai Marina Mall, hands out pamphlets outlining the mall's rules to scantily clad women every day.

But many people are not aware their outfits could be deemed offensive.

"I see it all the time, every day," he said. "They're sometimes dressed like they're going to the beach."

Most apologised and left the mall but some were rude and in rare cases ripped up the pamphlet.

A spokesperson for the Dubai Mall said: "Taking into consideration the inflow of tourists who might not be aware of the cultural sensitivities of the UAE, the mall's courtesy policy is clearly displayed with a focus on the dress code.

"Our staff also hand out flyers to remind any guests who are inappropriately dressed about the need to respect the region's cultural ethos."

A survey in February's issue of the Ministry of Interior's monthly 999 magazine asked 2,000 expatriates about their cultural awareness of the UAE. It found that 72 per cent knew little, while 11 per cent admitted they had not tried to learn.

According to Emma Brain, a radio presenter at Dubai's Radio 2, the problem of shoppers dressed in inappropriate outfits could be solved if malls simply took more responsibility.

"All it would take is putting some security guards at the entrance to make sure people are properly dressed," she said. "Word would spread like wildfire - problem solved."

Ms Brain said residents "should know better" and that airlines and hotels "should offer proper information and guidance to visitors".

Emirates Airline declined to comment, while Etihad was unavailable for comment.

A number of hotels in Dubai said they did not offer "cultural guidance" to guests.