The dark side of Dubai

There’s another side to the City of Gold, says Kaye Holland

The festive season is upon us and apparently an ever growing number of Brits are opting to spend Christmas abroad in Dubai, the UAE emirate that enjoys temperatures in the mid 20s during December.

I can understand the desire to spend Christmas cutting lose in the kingdom of bling but would exercise caution: Dubai is after all an Islamic state, even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia.

And this writer should know, having moved to Dubai for a couple of years back in 2005: I was 25, craving adventure – and an escape from dark, dreary winters. I was out there when Brits, Michelle Palmer and Vince Accor, found themselves facing jail after police caught the pair bonking on a beach following a boozy Friday brunch but, as sex on the beach most definitely wasn’t on my agenda, assumed I’d be absolutely fine.

It didn’t take me long to discover that while on the one hand the emirate is as urban and western as anywhere (not for nothing is Dubai described as the ‘Las Vegas of the Middle East’), it was (and is) simultaneously nothing short of a police state where a hard-line interpretation of Shariah law often lands tourists and expats alike in jail for acts that few would even dream were illegal.

Case in point? I refer to Mathew Hedges, the 31 year old PHD student who was jailed for life for “spying on the UAE” after a hearing lasting less than five minutes (fortunately this was over turned last week). Then there’s the case of British dentist Ellie Hollman who, together with her four year old daughter Bibi, was detained in an airport detention centre for three days during summer 2018 for having had the audacity to drink a glass of wine on an Emirates flight.

Or, from my own experience, the boozy brunches that take place in Dubai’s swanky hotel each and every Friday and are positively encouraged (Fridays are all about one thing in Dubai: brunch). Just, afterwards, when inebriated, don’t attempt to walk or take a taxi home for it’s a crime to be drunk in public in the emirate.

The sun kissed state (and indeed the other six emirates that make up the UAE) also deem homosexual acts unlawful. Even seemingly innocuous films such as the Adam Sandler vehicle I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry were banned by censors (censorship is alive and well) while I was living in in the desert.

Meanwhile I flat-shared–first with a British chap called James and later with a Kiwi, Guy, both of whom had to pass me off as their cousin during my tenancy because the authorities  could’t comprehend that it was possible for different sexes to live together if they weren’t family.

Posting anything anti-UAE or anti-government on social media, swearing in public, protesting or dancing (yes really) in public, buying, taking or selling drugs, writing a cheque that bounces, smoking electronic cigarettes and kissing or holding hands in public can also all land you in (scalding) hot water in contradictory Dubai.

Bottom line? Scratch beneath the shiny surface – the skyscrapers, colossal shopping malls and sumptuous hotels and you’ll find that, in reality, Dubai is nothing like that other world-famous desert city destination.

Dubai and Las Vegas may both extend a welcome as warm as the weather to tourists but, unlike the latter, gambling is frowned upon in Sheikh Mo’s strict Muslim state.

Brits looking for a looking for a hedonistic week away would do well to remember that, when booking their Christmas holiday.