Women grabbed in UAE National Day crowds

Five friends say they were 'groped' while walking with large crowds along the Corniche on National Day.

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ABU DHABI // Walking with the large crowds gathered along the Corniche to watch the country's National Day fireworks display on Sunday, a group of women did not think twice about cutting through a group of fellow revellers.

But for the five friends, all teachers at a local school, the night ended abruptly after a group of more than 70 men they tried to pass turned on them.

"They actually swarmed us," said one teacher. "We had heard some stories from last year so we thought we'd be very modest. We wore trousers, we covered up, we didn't want to draw any attention to ourselves."

Having arrived at the Corniche earlier that afternoon, as the crowd intensified, the women - at this point separated from their group of male friends - decided to make their way back to their cars to drive home.

Within a few minutes, they found themselves surrounded.

"They grabbed my chest," said one of the teachers, who was celebrating her first National Day. "And not just groped. It really hurt."

The attack, in which all five women were pushed into the middle of the group of men before being fondled, lasted less than a minute.

Brigadier Maktoum Al Sheriffi, the head of the Capital Police unit, said there were between five and 12 similar incidents reported on the day. "There were no serious attacks or rape, for instance," he said. "[The reports were] mostly verbal and of slight touching because of the congestion."

Another of the teachers said: "It was just so opportunistic. It just happened so fast that we didn't even see it coming."

The women were helped to safety by several other men walking on the Corniche, one of whom shouted at the attackers in Arabic that what they were doing was sinful.

One of the women said: "I had my hand on my friend's shoulder, the other on my handbag, and someone kept grabbing my hand. I didn't want to let go of my friend because, if I did, I'd be on my own. It was horrible - it was like an attack. I couldn't see faces, I could only see hands."

The men began to disperse after one of the teachers hit them with her water bottle and screamed, gaining the attention of passers-by.

They did not report the incident as there were no police in their vicinity, they said.

A large number of police were allocated to the Corniche, some in uniform and some undercover, said Maj Gen Al Sheriffi.

Of the up to 12 incidents reported at the weekend, most were by Arab or Asian women.

However, Brigadier Al Sheriffi said: "They requested to withdraw their complaints because of the festive spirit."

One of the teachers said: "I will not be going next year. Another said: "It started off as such a wonderful day, but it all went downhill. We are all shaken up."

This article has been amended since it was first published. The title of Maktoum Al Sheriffi, the director of the Capital Police Directorate, is Brigadier, not Maj Gen, as first reported.