Federal law on modesty 'no threat to tourism'

Culture officials do not believe a national dress code will negatively impact tourism.

Tourists stroll through the Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday afternoon. Silvia Razgova / The National
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ABU DHABI // A federal dress-code law would have little impact on tourism, say Emirati cultural authorities and FNC members.

On Tuesday, the FNC received full support from Dr Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, for the introduction of a national law.

After the response from Dr Al Owais, who is also the chairman of the National Council for Tourism and Antiquities, FNC members said they would recommend such a law to the Cabinet.

The law would only be imposed in public places such as malls and on streets, they said.

It would not stop tourists wearing swimwear on beaches or shorts in places where they are unlikely to mix with families or others who may be offended.

Dr Fatima Al Sayegh, a member of the Dubai Cultural Council and author of The UAE from Tribe to Statehood, said the law was "long overdue" and urgently needed.

"It is about time for this law because the things we see in streets, malls - it is not appropriate for a Muslim country," Dr Al Sayegh said.

"People go on holiday for culture, shopping, to see heritage, not to go and get naked.

"Don't people go to Malaysia? They stick to dressing modestly there."

Badria Mohammed, the culture awareness officer at the General Women's Union, agreed.

Ms Mohammed said her travels to many countries including Germany and Spain to spread cultural awareness and information on how to dress when visiting the UAE had convinced her that a law was needed.

"They nod but you can tell they are not convinced," she said. "A law would change that."

Gaurav Sinha, the founder and managing director of the Dubai travel-branding company Insignia, said the law's effect on tourism would rely on how it was explained to the world, "so people understand exactly what it means".

"The law would not be restricting people from enjoying this part of the world but help them enjoy the culture," Mr Sinha said.

He said the problem was not that expatriates disrespected the culture but that they were unaware of the policies in place.

While some hotels include a cultural guide in guests' rooms, Mr Sinha said not all of them informed tourists effectively about local sensitivities.

A spokeswoman from the Kempinski chain of hotels said the company provided guests with dress-code information.

"And they happily comply, so federal guidelines along those same lines would not impact our business," she said.

Katrina Angeles, from the Marriott chain of hotels, said: "It's unlikely they will pass the law with so many expats here. Dubai is like this because of all the foreigners."

Hamad Al Rahoumi, an FNC member from Dubai, said he believed many people disobeyed dress-code policies deliberately.

Mr Al Rahoumi said the sight of short shorts, tube tops and bikinis under transparent dresses had become all too common.

"I believe more than half [of dress-code offenders] are residents and do it on purpose," he said.

"They are mostly youth. They do abnormal things to attract attention. Your freedom stops when it steps over others."

Mr Al Rahoumi said tourism in Dubai, which introduced a dress-code policy three years ago, had not suffered.

"We are not saying there is something new, there is [already] a dress code," he said.

"We just want it enforced in the whole country."

Mr Al Rahoumi said that when he lived in England, he found people there dressed more modestly. He also said the law would "protect people from sexual harassments".

As it stands, mall patrons are advised to dress appropriately by security guards if they have taken no notice of signs requesting them to cover their knees and shoulders.

The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing said it could not comment until after a law was passed.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said it offered advice to visitors on dress code.

Dr Al Sayegh suggested offenders should receive a fine or deportation if the violation is repeated.

The matter is now with the Cabinet.

* Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Olson