New licensing rules to set up camp in Dubai desert

Take our poll: Increased patrols will monitor desert tent cities that spring up during the winter in Dubai, but many who enjoy the outdoors are not happy campers.
Municipality officials say the new permits are necessary to keep the desert clean and peaceful.
Municipality officials say the new permits are necessary to keep the desert clean and peaceful.

DUBAI // Winter desert camps keep Emiratis in touch with their heritage, a reminder of when life was simpler and a tradition in many families going back generations.

When the weather cools, tent cities spring up on the desert sands near residential areas such as Al Warqa and Al Aweer, and dozens of them appeared during the Eid Al Adha holiday.

Now, however, they require a licence from the municipality - obtainable on production of an ID card, passport, family book, a Dh2,000 deposit and a fee of 22 fils a week for each square metre of campsite.

And many Emiratis are not happy campers. "I will comply with the rules, of course, but I don't agree with them," said Bilal Obaid, 26, a government employee.

Municipality officials say the new permits are necessary to keep the desert clean and peaceful, but Umm Omar, a mother of four whose family have enjoyed winter camps since she was a child, said: "This is just another way for the municipality to take money from us."

Umm Omar said: "I don't see why they have to charge us for this after all these years. Why don't they just fine those who litter? Why do we all have to pay for the mistakes of a few?"

Mr Obaid said his camp is both for family and to entertain friends. "We have been doing this for the past 12 years. Our camp is only up for about three months and we come here four or five days a week.

"We ride quad bikes, play cards and barbecue. We enjoy all the aspects of camping and it's only a short drive from my house in Al Twar 3."

Only Emiratis will be granted permits for the makeshift camps. The municipality has also limited their size to 300 square metres.

"Last year we saw a sudden increase in the number of camps, which resulted in people arguing over locations and disturbances to the surrounding homes," said Jabir Ahmad Abdulla Al Ali, head of the building inspections section.

"We know that many people are still not aware of the new rules so we will carry on with the awareness campaign for now but inspections will start in about two weeks' time.

"We will be concentrating mostly in Al Warqa, as that is the most popular site for these camps and where we received complaints last year."

Yesterday's strong winds caused a sandstorm that knocked down a number of the camps in Al Warqa, but people were still out setting up tents and helping others to rebuild.

"I've never heard of anyone having any problems here, everyone seems to get along," said Mr Obaid. "If it's cleanliness they want and they are going to charge us then I expect to see more of an effort to collect waste.

"We always keep our area clean, we pride ourselves on that, but I've seen others who just don't care about the condition of their surroundings."

Umm Omar believes the camps are an important link to heritage for Emiratis.

"We have all been modernised now: we have villas and cars and TV and air conditioning. This camp here - these two tents - it's just a little reminder of where we came from, back when life was simpler.

"We can sit here in the desert with our children, we cook dinner outside on an open fire with the whole family around, and show them how our parents and grandparents used to live.

"Even though our house is a few minutes away, and it has a full kitchen with ovens and fridges and all that, I still feel that this is better. You actually feel closer as a family than when you are home and everyone is in their own room and you hardly see each other."

Published: October 30, 2012 04:00 AM


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