The UAE is a pretty easy place to be posted as an expat. There is none of the overt chaos, say, of a Bombay or Cairo. New multi-lane highways — sans livestock — link towns and cities. The malls here look very much like the ones I left behind in Dallas. (I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Nieman’s puts up a Gulf outpost.)
But this week, there was another reminder that the UAE is not the west, no matter what it seems like on the surface.
Over the New Year’s weekend, a British couple had come to Dubai and had gotten engaged. Understandably, they then were celebrating with perhaps a touch of champagne. According to news reports, the woman – who also happened to be of Pakistani origin and is a Muslim – went to the bathroom and passed out. She alleges their waiter followed her into the ladies’ room and raped her.
The next morning when she awoke, the memory of the rape came back to her. She and her fiance went to the police to report the rape. Instead of administering a rape kit, the authorities tested her blood alcohol level and quizzed her about her sexual activity with her fiance.
See, even though alcohol is available in hotels, it is technically illegal to consume it. And sex out of marriage? Well, this is a country ruled by Islamic laws. According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “illegal sex” comes with a penalty of six years in prison.
It was only after the British embassy intervened that she was given a full medical check and the morning after pill, according to media reports. Now, it seems authorities here have told the couple they must get married and admit she was drunk in exchange for their freedom.
“I always dreamed of a big family wedding in Britain,” said the woman according to The Daily Mail, “but now I just want to get married so I can get out of here. I’ve done nothing wrong but I’m petrified of rotting in jail.”