In June 2012, two Emirati women began a twitter campaign calling on foreign visitors to respect their culture and adhere to an existing dress code.
Hannan Al Rayyes and Asma Al Muheiri launched their UAE Dress Code page on Twitter because they were “tired of seeing tourists in beachwear or revealing outfits in shopping malls”.
Too many girls in the malls were “wearing shorts so short they looked like hot pants,” Ms Al Rayyes said.
Their first followers tweeted last week about their “disgust” at seeing foreigners dressed inappropriately.
“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.
There are already laws setting out the dress code, and signs at the entrances to malls – but Emiratis believe those laws are not being enforced.
According to the UAE's The National, 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 understand local laws and culture.
“We have to take into consideration that there are a lot of nationalities coming here, which means we have to be flexible.”
He said it was police policy to only approach those whose outfits “border on nudity”.
Emirati politicians are now considering a new law to enforce the dress code for foreigners.
Meanwhile on Twitter, UAE Dress Code now has over 2000 followers. Many of them saying foreign visitors need to “respect our culture”.
A few have linked the campaign to the so-called “burqua ban” policies in European nations such as France and Belgium, citing those laws and visitors' disrespect for dress standards as anti-Islamic.
However, the overwhelming sentiment on the Twitter page is that there needs to be more education about Emirati culture and standards for visitors.
For women it means covering the shoulders and the knees (and everything in between). Spaghetti straps will raise eyebrows.
You don‘t have to hide your figure, as you do in Iran or Saudi Arabia, but tight-fitting clothing is a no-no.
There's no law requiring you to cover your hair with a scarf (unless you're entering a mosque).
Men should be wary of shorts – knee-length is considered modestly acceptable.
T-shirts with strappy shoulders or very low V-necks will get you some attention you don‘t need (there goes your wardrobe of Bintang singlets from Bali!).
Men shouldn't wear women's clothing (visibly) – that's sure to get you arrested.
Both genders should keep sports clothes on the sports field, including cycling shorts (name me a culture where cycling shorts are NOT considered offensive!).
At the beach, women can wear bikinis that cover all the important bits.
Thongs, Brazillian-style itsy-bitsy bikinis, and going topless are not ok.
Thongs are definitely out for men at the beach, and sadly racing-style costumes (Speedos) are allowed - even on men over 50 - but board shorts and swimming shorts are more acceptable.
Young children can wear almost whatever you want them to, but don't let them run around nude.
Don't wear clothing with potentially offensive slogans or symbols. Think carefully and conservatively about this one. Leave the “I heart Tel Aviv” t-shirt in the suitcase.
This is a different matter in Sharjah and Ajman, both members of the UAE, where Sharia law is dominant. They are very conservative societies and have strict, mandated dress codes. Women should cover upper arms and shoulders down to mid calf. No shorts at all for men.
A Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction will see you explaining yourself to police.
If what you've chosen to wear doesn't quite meet the dress code, expect to have an Emirati woman come up to you and tell you so. Don't argue with her; apologize and either cover up straight away or promise to go and cover up as soon as possible. If you argue, the police will come. You may not be arrested for arguing (except if you swear), but you could be charged with “offending public decency”, and the word of the Emirati woman will trump you every time.
In 2010, a British woman was arrested after she argued with an Arabic woman who'd accosted her about her bare shoulders. The British woman‘s response was to strip down to her bikini, right there in the shopping mall. She spent 3 days as a “guest” of Dubai police before she got a dressing-down (pun intended) from a judge and the charges were dropped (also pun intended).
Again, in Sharjah and Ajman breaking the code will be dealt with more seriously.
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