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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Ask Ali: On UAE laws

Ali Alsaloom gives advice on UAE laws and why shisha seems scarce in the media.

Dear Ali: I am about to move to Abu Dhabi and want to familiarise myself with the laws before I land. Where can I find that information? I want to learn as much as I can before getting on the plane. JE, Canada

Dear JE: As you might already know, the UAE consists of seven emirates, similar to tiny states, all with separate laws. However, they all operate under one federal court. The best advice I can give is to choose the particular emirate's government website to learn about its particular rules. They might all sound the same, but there are some small, important differences when it comes to implementing Sharia, as well as rules for business and so on. Go to to learn more about the way of life in the capital. It also provides information on the paperwork you will need to live and work in the UAE.

You can also visit the different departmental websites such as the judiciary at or the Ministry of Labour at But because of the structure of our government and economy, we might have one federal ministry for education, but, for example, have another education council at the emirate level that sets out additional details and rules for that emirate. The same goes for other industries. However, don't forget, I'm here. Send any specific concerns my way and I should be able to help. Don't worry, life here's really not all so strange and different.

Dear Ali: Why does no media outlet, as far as I've seen, publish articles or air segments on smoking a shisha? When I walk around my neighbourhood, every second shop seems to have at least a couple of men sitting outside having a smoke. It is clearly one of the biggest social activities, but I can't remember reading a single piece about it. Isn't this is a bit hypocritical to sweep something as central to life in the UAE under the carpet? JH, Dubai

Dear JH: Whenever I read the word shisha I feel jealous - it's becoming more famous than our kanduras! Anyway, no, nobody is being hypocritical here. We are sometimes criticised for apparently not having enough freedom of speech in the media and this is something you allude to with your question.

Let me ask you this: do newspapers in the West constantly highlight the "wonders" of cigarettes or alcohol? What about drugs? These activities do go on, but you won't find much press talking up such behaviour. That's not being hypocritical, is it?

You are quite right to say that smoking shisha is a big part of Arab culture, but that doesn't mean we should promote it. I'm incredibly proud of the press we have here, but what is wrong to sticking to your own values and understanding that there are limits? Indeed, you won't see CNN or BBC teaching people how to roll a tasty cigar and smoke it. Some people might be thinking: "well, yes I have". That's unfortunate and not "freedom" in my eyes.

Also, please note that we do sometimes write and speak about shisha. I do so in my own guide to Abu Dhabi and in my upcoming book about Dubai. It would be silly to completely ignore it.

Tobacco companies are barred from advertising in many western countries. Governments seem to think this is sensible as opposed to a crackdown on press freedom. I would rather see the media here promote healthy pastimes - it comes down to a matter of priorities.

Language lesson

Arabic: Ghaali


This word describes the value of a certain thing or person. It is versatile enough to have the same meaning in different contexts. For example, if you want to say how precious your baby is to you, you would say "My son ghaali alay", or for a girl, you would say "ghaliah". Even when bargaining in a souq and wanting to say that something is expensive, you would say, "Hadha wayed ghaali".


Published: December 18, 2010 04:00 AM


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