Mohamed Hemish
Last updated: 21 July, 2013

“Being a modern country should not mean having the highest tower in the world or the biggest shopping mall”

On Friday July 19, 2013, Marte Deborah Dalelv, a Norwegian woman went public about a 16-month sentence she received after reporting to the police that she was a victim of rape in a hotel in Dubai in March this year.

She explains in an interview with the Associated Press news agency, “(I) woke up and I realized I was being raped and I went down to the lobby and I asked them to call the police for me.”

“They asked me are you sure you want to call the police? And I thought of course I want to call the police because that’s the natural reaction where I am from,” she added.

The legal system in the UAE punished Marte for coming forward about being raped, which the staff at her hotel knew would happen, hence the question about involving the police. The verdict basically accused Marte of being a liar and undermined her and her complaint. The court took the liberty of teaching Marte a lesson about this “irresponsible” behavior by imprisoning her for 16 months for drinking alcohol and having sex outside of marriage. Yet the man who was alleged with rape was cleared of the accusation and only sentenced for 13 months in prison for alcohol consumption and out-of-wedlock sex.

No organization or entity in the UAE is taking these issues seriously

This comes two days after an Indian, living in the UAE, was imprisoned and refused bail after uploading a video to YouTube he had taken of an Emirati government official attacking a South Asian van driver after a traffic accident. The person who filmed has been arrested and refused bail and now faces a maximum of two years in jail or a fine of up to AED 20,000 if convicted of filming without permission or defamation. Yet the Emirati who assaulted the Indian van driver faces up to a year in jail or a maximum fine of up to AED 10,000 for minor assault.

The abuser, a high level government official, attacks an Indian van driver in broad day light in the middle of a busy street without having any regards of the surroundings. It is clear that he abused his power of being a government official, likely confident that any potential trouble would be resolved through his contacts. He also abused his status as a citizen of the UAE who nobody wants to get into trouble out of fear for discriminatory treatment by legal bodies in the country.

One could argue that this is an individual incident that represents only that particular case. But the look of the Indian van driver is telling, he was terrified of reacting to the Emirati abuser without even knowing the attacker’s status or job. He knew that any defiance on his part would get him into more trouble; most probably get him fired and deported from UAE. On the other hand, the attacker knew for a fact that he could get away with it – he almost did hadn’t it been for the person who shot the video that went viral on YouTube.

According to Aljazeera, the police was only alerted to the attack after the son of the Emirati official (read: abuser) accused the person who uploaded the video for defaming his father. Otherwise this could have been yet another incident that went under the radar and thus maintained the status quo.

The law in the UAE tends to punish the ones who come forward to uncover abuses that could disturb the peaceful and modern image the UAE government is selling to the world. Marte was punished because she came forward and reported a case of rape and received a sentence worse than that of her alleged attacker. Similarly the man who shot the video of the physical abuse incident was arrested, refused bail and faces a worse sentence than the Emirate attacker.

Those are only two cases that demonstrate how far behind the UAE is in terms of social awareness and in terms of law. The UAE government shows its true colors when it comes to women and foreigners residing in the country or even visitors daring to speak out against the injustice and double standard behavior that overshadow the different aspects of life in the UAE.

The UAE government, just as other regimes in the Gulf area, attempts to superficially address such issues of sexual and physical abuses. These issues are mostly overlooked by the government and by society unless they get covered by media or go viral on the Internet. No organization or entity in the UAE is taking these issues seriously.

Being a modern country should not mean having the highest tower in the world or the biggest shopping mall in the region, in fact it must mean aspiring to having a legal system that promotes rights and assures freedoms of all its residents regardless of citizenship or social status.