Authorities in Abu Dhabi are debating about introducing a national law that would put a dress code in effect in public places across the UAE. This has recently been brought forward by various campaign groups, who want people to be prevented from wearing skimpy clothes in shopping malls and on streets. It's believed that such a move would have little impact on tourism though.
The law was proposed by Federal National Council (FNC) member Hamad Al Rahoumi, who referred to the ban in France on wearing veils. He asked how offenders could be punished if policies didn't have any law behind them. In his appeal, Rahoumi said that there were two people in front him on an escalator at a mall in Dubai kissing passionately. He also recalled a couple who had their hands each other's back pockets. He said this isn't appropriate for the families who go to the mall too. His goal isn't to make people wear a niqab, headscarf or an abaya – only to make them dress appropriately, he added.
The cabinet is currently considering the proposed law after a recommendation from the FNC was, on Tuesday, backed by Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development Dr Al Owais. The authorities involved have agreed so far that expat residents are more likely to walk around in inappropriate clothing than tourists. The minister said that the UAE is a conservative society that holds to their traditions. He speaks as the head of the national tourism council, and their power is limited. He agrees there should be a federal law to introduce a dress code, but the decision lies with the cabinet.
Members of the FNC and Emirati cultural authorities say that this won't have much of an impact on tourism. They say the law will only be enforced in public areas, like on streets and in malls. It won't keep tourists from wearing swimsuits on beaches or shorts where they are unlikely to mix with families or other people who could be offended.
Insignia (a travel-branding firm) managing director Gaurav Sinha says the effect of the law on tourism would depend on how it's explained to the world, as people need to understand exactly what it means. The legislation wouldn't be restricting people from enjoying this area of the globe but would help them enjoy the culture. He noted that the problem isn't that expats disrespect the culture – they are unaware of the policies in place. Sinha added that not all hotels effectively inform tourists about local sensitivities either, such as providing cultural guides in guest rooms.
A Kempinski Hotels spokeswoman said they provided dress code information to their guests, so federal guidelines along the same lines won't impact their business. Katrina Angeles, with Dubai Marriott Hotels, believes it's unlikely the law will pass with so many expats there. The emirate is like this due to all the foreigners, she added.
Dubai Cultural Council member Dr Fatima Al Sayegh says that the law is long overdue and needed. It's about time, as things they see in malls and on streets isn't appropriate for a Muslim nation, he said. People go on holiday for heritage, culture and shopping – not to get naked – while they stick to dressing modestly in Malaysia, he noted.
General Women's Union culture awareness officer Badria Mohammed also agreed, saying her travels to several nations, including Spain and Germany, to spread information and cultural awareness about how to dress when visiting the UAE has convinced her that a dress code law is needed. Foreigners nod, but she can tell they aren't convinced – a law would change this.