Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Blog

By Johara Hall

2012 Summer Intern

It all started on Twitter. Two young women, Hanan al-Rayyes and Asma al-Muheiri, launched a campaign on the social media site against inappropriate dress in the UAE. On a trip to one of Dubai’s over-the-top malls, Muheiri says she “saw a woman at the mall wearing very short shorts and she looked repulsive”. Appalled by such dress, Muheiri set to tweeting, proposing a federal law enforcing a dress code. Her tweets have triggered a plethora of responses both in support and against the initiative, making her a social activist overnight. The campaign now has 1,075 followers on Twitter.

In ten days, the campaign has garnered worldwide attention. While more conservative locals have energetically supported the UAE Dress Code Campaign, others have not. Sharifa Al Boloshi of Abu Dhabi says "The country has a good reputation in terms of freedom for foreigners and this would have a negative effect on it." But others emphasize that the UAE is a Muslim country and that foreigners should respect the culture and traditions of their host country. "I'm totally against seeing people walking in malls wearing inappropriate clothes because I don't want my children to see this," says Khawla Al Haremy, a mother also from Abu Dhabi, in favor of the dress code law.

A campaign of this nature is not simply about clothing, but about local Emiratis fearing the loss of their social, cultural, and religious values as expatriates flock to the country from around the world. One local, Amna Ali, insists that “they have to respect local culture because it's good for the local people and for the next generation of Emiratis who might be affected by it."

But a dress code law poses concern to the nation’s tourism industry, which has boomed in recent decades not only for being home to the “shopping capital of the Middle East,” but for its tolerance as well. Known as a westerner’s haven in a heavily conservative region, the UAE is now home to more expatriates than Emiratis. In fact, locals make less than 12% of the country’s total population.

So the question remains, should there be a dress code law in the UAE? The National, an English newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, issued a survey with questions such as “Do you observe people inappropriately/immodestly dressed?” and “Compared to a year ago, do you think the problem of people dressing inappropriately is?” to help address the growing issue (Click here to take the survey).

According to survey results, “80 per cent of readers said expatriate residents as well as visitors were dressing inappropriately in public areas.” Therefore, it is now time for the UAE’s inhabitants to decide whether to introduce a dress law or a clear dress code. In other words, will the country take a hardline approach by enforcing a dress law, or will it choose to educate its populace and visitors on appropriate dress in a more gradual manner? This decision could strengthen the nation’s atmosphere of tolerance for which it is has become famous, or could mark the beginning of a new chapter in the UAE’s history. 



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