UAE alcohol law ‘forgot about tourists’

Judges and lawyers say a loophole in the law regarding tourists who drink alcohol needs to be corrected.

DUBAI // Lawyers and judges are calling for changes to the law concerning tourists and alcohol.

Every day of the year hundreds of thousands of tourists drink alcohol, with few aware that they are breaking the law.

Most foreign residents will be well aware that for them to legally consume alcohol they must obtain a licence, but few realise the same law applies to tourists.

Lawyers say the problem is that it is impossible for a tourist to obtain a licence.

To receive one, applicants must prove they are non-Muslim, aged 21 or older, earning more than Dh3,000 a month and are resident in the UAE.

Therefore, tourists are left in a legal grey area, and while most will leave the country in blissful ignorance that they have broken the law, legal experts warn events can turn sour in a heartbeat for the unlucky few.

Lawyer Yousif Al Bahar gave a theoretical example of a female tourist who had a few drinks while dining at a restaurant. She accidentally stepped on the abaya of an Arab woman.

The woman screamed at the tourist and refused to accept her apology. As the argument escalated she called the police.

When they arrived the dispute was resolved, but the officers smelt alcohol on the tourist and asked for her licence. Unable to produce one, she was taken into custody.

“If this woman tells the authorities that she did not know she needed a licence and promises to obtain one to get out of trouble, she won’t be able to simply because she is not a resident,” Mr Al Bahar said.

“So what should she do? She will have to go to court and face a charge of drinking without a licence. This is proof that the law is in need of amending.”

He said the issue had to be addressed as Dubai attracted more and more tourists.

“There are many ways of solving this problem,” Mr Al Bahar said. “Perhaps tourists could obtain a licence from the airport along with their visa or when they buy their tickets.”

A public prosecutor agreed, saying: “The law forgot about the tourist entirely and this is going to affect tourism in Dubai.”

He called the law contradictory as it allowed non-Muslim residents to drink alcohol, but forbade non-Muslim tourists from doing so.

The prosecutor said the law “needs to be corrected”, pointing out that any tourist who inadvertently fell foul of the law would not return to their home country with complimentary tales of the emirate.

“He or she will give a distorted image of Dubai,” he said.

Advocate Royaa Al Awadi agreed that issuing temporary alcohol licences to tourists when they obtained visas would be one way of solving the problem.

Ms Al Awadi said neither the law nor Islam, from which the law is derived, banned non-Muslims from drinking alcohol, and questioned why tourists should be treated any differently.

Two Dubai Courts judges were of a similar view.

“The law forgot all about the tourist,” one said. “In terms of principle, the law legalises alcohol licences, so what is the point of allowing residents to have such licences but not tourists?”