08 August, 2007

Freedom, not Protected by Law

It occurs to me that one of the things many people like about the UAE, whether local or expat, are the freedoms that most of us percieve we have. There is freedom to worship according to one's beliefs and freedom to associate with others as one pleases, so long as there is a certain level of discretion. There is freedom to dress as one chooses, whereas even in a Western country one is not likely to ever see a burkha beside a bikini.

I don't think anyone can deny the popular perception of a great amount of freedom in this country, even though some will counter that religious or other restrictions exist. On the other hand, very few if any of these perceived freedoms are actually protected by law. So when it comes to dress, association, and even religious practices (like, say, handing out Bible tracts on the street) one, if unlucky, may well discover that these freedoms are on some level illusory.

But I would argue that these freedoms are, in fact, not illusions. They are the reality that make the UAE such a comfortable place to live and work in for the many varieties of people that do, and make it possible that the UAE may in time become the world's premier leisure destination as its leaders and planners envision. This is freedom UAE-style--a reality, even if not guaranteed by law.


Platini said...

And what is Liberty? A French gift to the Americans?

SevenSummits said...

“The UAE such a comfortable place to live and work in???”

Who paid you for that statement? Sounds a lot like the glittering UAE propaganda, that is entirely build on sand. “Perception” should be the keyword here and the reality in regards to long term development will be intimidating - to say the least.

Hopefully it is just those concentrations of carbon monoxide, lead and suspended particulate matter in Dubai, which already exceed WHO guidelines that are responsible for these lines – coming from you B.D. – simply inexcusable.

mar said...

seven: did u live in kuwait? saudi? perhaps oman? go experience the liberty and freedom in those places and then maybe we van meet and exchange notes on whether or not dubai is up to your standards.

nick said...
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nick said...


The UAE is actually a comfortable place to live in.
Working here is a constant struggle with unprofessional behaviour, but at least people want to work and make an effort. It is a very entrepreneurial climate.
That's why I am here. To move things. In that sense it's easy to work here.

All that said, the above statements apply only to locals, a certain young educated Arab elite, the exiled Iranian bourgeoisie, a secretive bunch of Indian businessmen and us Western expats in senior positions with nice tax free packages, and of course only if you do not feel like thinking for yourself and expressing yourself politically. It's a golden cage.

For the rest it's the same shit like at home, minus the legal rights of equal citizens.

ColOman said...
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ColOman said...

Oman and Kuwait are free in many more ways, Mar. There is press freedoom and election in Kuwait,in Oman you can find Hindu and Christean Omanis but if you think wearing a binking in the middle of the mall is freedom, then I think we are talking about two diffrent kinds of freedoms.

Todd said...

There are Christian Omanis? Since when? I thought all GCC countries were 100% Moslem.

mar said...

coloman: the freedom of the press in kuwait is basically busy talking about corruption and rape.(do you want to really be reading constantly about that). election is a fund raising activity, a social act to keep people busy for some time away from the real issues of the country. (its all the same in the whole of the ME). at least in dubai youre safe. you have the right to take a local to court and not face torture and deportation (although exceptions do happen i hear). there are rules and regulations to protect your civil right. you are treated as a respected individual and you dont have to bribe half the country to get a driving license. based on my experience dubai is the best package of all. nothing is more precious than your peace of mind. and by the way are you sure there are no christian emarati's ;).

one final thought. i totally agree that dubai is very hush hush and private when it comes to sharing and ruling but as an expat really im not really borthered :)

ColOman said...
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ColOman said...

Lets agree on one thing; ruling is for Emaraties only, we are guests in their country and we have to respect that.

While I am not saying that there no bribes in Kuwait you can not deny that they do have some areas with more freedom than here.If you take Oman as an example you can still wear a bikini but in the beach and around the pool, not in the malls. Safety is not an issue in Oman and you will not get deported if you take a local court either.

While I agree this place is a better place for foreigners, this has come at the expense of the locals identy which is on jeopardy.

SevenSummits said...

Wow – an entire comment, where I can agree with basically everything you said. :-)

Well maybe just for the first sentence, because we need to differentiate a little when it comes to “comfortable place to live in”. Of course everyone is using a different scale when it comes to rating urban environments. If you compare Dubai for instance with Lagos, than Dubai will most likely score a little better. (now it was not that easy to find a place with worse vehicular congestion :- )) In the absence of fine / liberal arts, a scenic landscape (the influence of a professional special affection to concrete?? ;-) ), I am assuming that you were focusing on the economic situation from a Western point of view. Very attention-grabbing the analysis that people are “hard working and making an effort”, because this was also one of my observations in the UAE. (only relevant to foreigners, of course!) Glad thou that you highlighted that this comment only applies to a certain group of privileged people, but for once this posting should not circulate around social justice.

The catch comes in when one is making the mistake of thinking critically and even worse when expressing those thoughts. Just like you did in your comments in regards to backwardness, women empowerment (gender is not my topic, but you had an extremely valid point there), political reform process, etc. and we can add a few, such as indoctrinated education and environmental concerns.

I actually do work in Kuwait and Saudi (never in Oman!) and share the same sentiment that Coloman [City of God ? Great taste and I can see that we are on the same page here] displayed. Actually Kuwait is a lot more liberal (a display of boobs in disrespect of the local culture in shopping malls is not exactly liberal in my personal opinion) and yes we are all aware of the recently discouraging performance of Kuwaiti style democracy (elections are almost always a “personal” fund raising activity in developing countries, not only in the Arab world), but in general both these countries cannot be compared to the UAE. Undeniably overcoming tribalism and ensuring a minimum of political-ethnic homogeneity will be one major challenge to the nation-building process. However the situation in Saudi, unlike in the UAE, is relatively pluralist and has many access points for discussion, research and exchange. Several foundations run by liberal princes can be used to increase international communication and in comparison the situation is and will be a complete vacuum in the UAE. Try for yourself and send an e-mail request to a ministry in Saudi or Kuwait – you will get an answer, try the same with the UAE, please. Zip! What we currently see as so called “international cooperation” is merely a farce and just one of those PR stunts. Try to have a chat with an insider and they will tell you that the only ones they are cooperating with are foreigners based in the UAE. (local participation = -1 – sorry Nick, for plagiarizing your style, but it is a good well to get the main point across)

You are certainly not safe in Dubai and you can instantly be deprived of any civil right within seconds. It can happen to anyone, at any time – just when they feel like setting an example or satisfying some anti-Western sentiment. There is abundant torture in the UAE and in comparison to numerous much less developed countries you will not be treated respectfully. Maybe you should talk to some of those European victims that just happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time. Personally, I would rather take my chances in Saudi or Kuwait, because according to my knowledge they have never tortured a German citizen there (while I already know of four confirmed incidences in the UAE). So better do not feel so safe after all … :- (

alisha said...

well i must say that this post (though a bit idealistic sounding) is a refreshing change from all the RTA - Salik - UAE football team sucks posts...
As an expatriate leaving the country next week after spending 19 years here, i must say that the UAE has had a profound impact on my life - both good and bad...whilst i do agree with BD about the certain perceived freedoms in this country, as a child growing up and going to school here, there definitely has been a sense of monotony to my surroundings...whilst my parents offered me all the comforts i needed and wanted as a child, as an adult i'm still looking for more than a comfortable car, a house at the arabian ranches and a couple of drinks at the irish village...that said though, this place is a choice that all expatriates make and to be wholly negative about it is being unfair...i can think of more than one of my friends who are happy here with families at their side..

B.D. said...

Although it is easy to say that most of the changes in the UAE have been to the benefit of foreigners--i.e. they can enjoy to a large extent the lifestyle and cultures of the various countries they came from, it is no less true that locals enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than they ever would have in the past.

Even they benefit from the option of wearing a bikini if that is what they want, while at the same time having the complete right and opportunity to wear a full burkha. They can if they want live in a traditional extended family compound or a high-rise tower overlooking SZR.

The beauty, I think, for even the locals is that they can lead as traditional or non-traditional a life as they so choose. So, we all have options here in the UAE, except as someone pointed out, those--a great many in fact--who are the lowest wage earners. But even they enjoy some freedoms that they would not have in their more traditional, less developed home countries.

secretdubai said...

The beauty, I think, for even the locals is that they can lead as traditional or non-traditional a life as they so choose.

To some extent yes, but houses in many traditional areas have been torn down for roads and hotels, or have become too expensive for lower income locals.

In terms of a traditional life I get the impression that many emiratis are forced out of the city if they want some of the peaceful desert lifestyle that they used to be able to enjoy by the beach, or the creek, or in quiet suburb.

Now it's just endless tower blocks, roads, construction.

Anonymous said...

Bikini besides burka can be seen in western cultures too
But you won't be arrested to express your views on the president - for instance. In addition, you've rights as an employees which are actual (not just on paper)

Your understanding of Freedom must vastly differ from the rest of us, my friend

ninjacamel said...

Most vestiges of traditional life here are gone; you’ll find more of them in a museum than in real life. There are no Amish here. As for the comforts and freedoms, this is definitely a matter of perception; and while our opinions might carry some validity in relation to specific groups of residents, the truth is the perspective of some 80% of the people who work and live here is virtually absent from any public forum and none of us can confidently claim to represent it.

Anonymous said...

Freedoms that can be taken away at the whim of local officials and unelected leaders is a wholly different freedom than one would experience in other places in the world. A freedom not protected by law is merely a "temporary permission" for today. Who knows what tomorrow will hold. When a culture or society does not allow people to choose what they believe with regard to faith, God, and eternal destiny then it is not a free place.

p.s. I find it ironic that this posting on freedom has several comments deleted.

B.D. said...

The comments were deleted by author, meaning someone was probably self-editing for mechanical or other errors.

I agree with you about the tenuous nature of the freedoms, but there is some staying power and precedent to give one comfort, even if it isn't as good as written in stone. This country has been stable and progressive for over 30 years and all indications are that it will continue in this way into the near future, if not beyond. That counts for something!

Despite what is happening in the Levant and Iraq--as tragic as that is--and the potential turmoil in Iran, the Gulf states and particularly the UAE seem to be charting a type of self-manifested prosperity with the stability that affords, similar to places like Hong Kong and Singapore, even while turmoil gripped some of their larger neighbors.

ninjacamel said...

BD; The freedoms you mention (mostly related to life-style) do exist, at least for sections of the population; partly as a result of the multi-cultural nature of society and also becaue of a relatively tolerant and forward-looking local system. But let’s not confuse rights, freedoms, stability, prosperity and leisure. Though can be related in some respects, these are all very different concepts.

Lirun said...

this will depend on the jurisdiction u live in.. but to me.. freedoms and liberties live together as a sub category of rights.. whereas rights are defended by law and cannot be overruled unless express exclusions are legislated to those rights - freedoms and liberties are confined by the rights of others..

for example.. the general population has a freedom of movement.. but when someone buys property they can restrict that movement to exclude the property because they in fact have acquired rights which inherently prevail over freedoms to the extent of the inconsistency..


while freedoms are not necessarily always protected by law.. they are in fact somewhat provided for by law.. because as you allude.. your legal system could have introduced mechanisms that restrict those freedoms.. but it hasnt.. so in way it harbours those freedoms creating the society that you enjoy..

by the way - i surf in yaffo.. and we have loads and loads of bikinis alongside burqa clad women on the beach.. seamlessly enjoying the tide and waves..

i agree - it is a great feeling knowing people enjoy that freedom..

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