x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Complaints lead to segregation

The capital's new beach is to be divided into two separate areas after complaints about groups of single men.

Crowds gather on the capital's new public beach.
Crowds gather on the capital's new public beach.

ABU DHABI // The capital's new public beach is to be divided into two separate areas following complaints from families about groups of single men congregating there, the municipality said yesterday. The beach, which has been open for only a week, will be divided into a section for families and women and another for single males by the end of this week, according to a senior municipality official.

"This is due to the large number of people coming to the beach on the weekend," said Salem al Maameri, the director of municipal services. "Many families complained to us that they cannot use the beach peacefully and so we wanted to create an environment where they could use the beach." The 2km beach on the Corniche was opened with much fanfare last Wednesday and hailed as a new amenity for everyone in the city.

Details of how the areas will be separated and the rule enforced are under discussion. Before the announcement, there had been a suggestion the beach would be closed off altogether to single men. Workers on their break yesterday sheltered under the shaded tables dotting the beach. However, some were asked to move on by security patrolling the beach, which at any time has seven guards on duty. "The security told us to leave the beach, that we couldn't stay there during our break," said one man. "We are allowed in the evening, but not during this time."

However, a lifeguard on duty said that he had not received any complaints from beachgoers. "I haven't heard any complaints from people yet from people saying that the men are looking at them," he said. "Many people are coming to the beach, families, girls, guys, everyone." Angela Jaafar, 18, a student enjoying the beach yesterday with a group of friends, said she had not been made to feel uncomfortable.

"No one has said anything and I feel fine. This is my first time on the beach, but I saw a lot of women here before, so I thought it would be OK," she said. "At the end of the day, it is a public beach so it should be for everyone." But Ms Jaafar's friend Rashed al Suroor, from Jordan, said that on other occasions he had seen large groups of men crowding around women on the beach, behaviour he described as unacceptable.

Fiona O'Halloran, from Ireland, visiting the beach with her young daughter, said a recent experience at a public beach in Abu Dhabi had made her so uncomfortable she had vowed never to go back. "I was there with my husband and daughter and was leered at by a group of men and made to feel very uncomfortable," she said. "Some were even taking pictures of women ... There's no way I'd go back, so I hope this beach will be different."

So far between 5,000 and 10,000 people had visited the beach, said Mr Maameri. The municipality also announced yesterday that swimming was permitted only between 6am and 8pm, although other facilities were open until midnight. New rules for the beach, which can accommodate up to 5,000 people, have now been posted. They forbid nudity, fishing, loud music and alcohol and call for beachgoers to respect each other. The beach, which cost Dh105 million (US$28.5m) to develop, is free, with facilities including a mosque, beach volleyball courts, changing rooms, shaded kiosks and restaurants and 12 hectares of parks, playgrounds and promenades.