Was the arrest of a drunken British couple having sex on Dubai’s beach an isolated incident? This shocking dispatch reveals that the shaming behaviour of the expats is now so widespread there are growing fears of a terrorist backlash
DESPITE the presence of undercover ‘love police’ now patrolling its scalding white sands, and the promise of new signs warning foreigners of dire consequences should their passions get the better of them, little has changed on the Dubai beach where two drunken Britons staged their now notorious ‘sex romp’.
Last Wednesday, at one end of the vast, crescent-shaped expanse, a contingent of preening expat women in designer bikinis fried themselves for as long as they could withstand the 50 degree heat before plunging into the blue waters to cool their bronzed bodies.
Further along the shoreline, meanwhile, their hapless Emirati counterparts were forced to wade into the waves wearing their amorphous black abayas, which weighed them down so heavily when drenched that they could barely paddle out again.
Set against a backdrop of dizzying new skyscrapers and a forest of giant cranes (50 per cent of the world’s entire stock of the largest cranes is concentrated here), this tableau neatly epitomises the seismic clash of cultures and morals which has lately beset this desert-built Disneyland of a state.
This collision between traditional Islamic values and those of the decadent West may have been brought sharply into focus by the tawdry sex-on-thebeach saga — which is expected to reach its denouement next week with the prosecution of expat publishing executive Michelle Palmer and her fleeting partner, businessman Vince Acors.
To understand fully its complexities, and potential gravity, however, one must leave Dubai, with its glitzy shopping malls
‘Bad behaviour could stoke the fire of hatred’
and nightclubs, and drive north for 50 minutes along the new Emirates Highway.
Here, sandwiched between the dramatic Hajja Mountains and the Arabian Gulf, one enters the most beautiful but little-known emirate of Ras al-Kaimah. Though it is still the same country, here there are no boozy Brits or flashy hotels. And to its 295,000 souls — naturally hospitable but fiercely religious and traditional in their ways — neighbouring Dubai is the new Babylon.
It is no coincidence that the 9/11 hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, who piloted the plane that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, hails from these parts. Indeed, some locals regard his family’s white stone villa, which stands near the mosque in a dusty hamlet where goats roam the streets, as a shrine.
By now, the enormity of the drunken beach romp — which is merely symptomatic of the routinely appalling behaviour of the new breed of British expats in Dubai — should be plainly apparent.
But if not, then it is spelt out by Dr Christopher Davidson, a Durham University lecturer who has spent much time in the United Arab Emirates and has just published an acclaimed book examining the possible consequences of Dubai’s emergence as the world’s fastest-growing commercial and tourism centre.
He is convinced that Dubai, with its unique position as a cosmopolitan and capitalist society at the heart of the Middle East, is high on the list of targets for Islamic fundamentalists — an assertion which gained credence recently when the Foreign Office elevated the emirate to the highest state of terror alert.
And Dr Davidson fears that the revulsion of seeing members of the 120,000-strong British community trampling over the sensitivities of their Islamic hosts could stoke the fire of hatred, turning some disaffected young Emirati into the next al-Shehhi.
‘It’s not making a quantum leap to connect the rising threat of a terrorist attack with badlybehaved Britons,’ he told me. ‘The Dubai government has gone for mass tourism and huge foreign investment, and they’ve been very successful so far, but the cost could be enormous.
‘There is still no outlet for the frustrations of disaffected locals, many of whom are appalled by loose Western standards, in particular among women.
‘I have sat in coffee shops with UAE nationals and they’ve looked me in the eye and told me: “I want my country to be an Islamic emirate.” There is a lot of resentment. It is not stretching credibility to imagine that, for some, the only way to vent that frustration could be by committing an act of violence.’
For Dubai, of course, such an act would be disastrous. It
Locals are priced out of the best areas
would, as Dr Davidson points out, instantly burst the bubble of confidence on which the ruling Maktoum family have built their incredible dreamland in the dunes.
International investment would dry up; the million British tourists who flock here to shop and sun themselves each year would melt away; the Premiership footballers and pop stars who have bought exclusive villas on the new Palm Islands development, such as Michael Owen and Rod Stewart, would doubtless move to safer shores.
Moreover, since Dubai is the Middle East’s cosmopolitan melting pot, and its experiment with Islamic capitalism could become the blueprint for surrounding Arab states, its failure would have dire consequences for the entire region.
On the surface, the sordid encounter between Palmer and Acors may be the stuff of saucy seaside postcards, but to the many Dubaian nationals I have spoken to this week it is no laughing matter.
As I was reminded repeatedly, they are already minority group in their own country, where more than 85 per cent of the estimated 1.8 million residents are from overseas. And this latest incident is but another reminder of the manner in which, they claim, their mores are being eroded by the vast foreign influx.
After spending a week here, it is easy to understand why they feel so strongly, for it is not only on Dubai’s beaches that one finds the locals on the wrong side of an invisible line in the sand.
Take, for example, trendy bars such as Sho Cho, on the exclusive marina development, where Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors downed cocktails before their starlit fumble.
Here, as in many fashionable restaurants, only Western clothing is permitted, and any man wearing an Arab costume is summarily turned away.
This discrimination extends to the workplace. Young Emiratis may be first in line for civil service positions, but the plethora of perk-laden, tax-free jobs in the new foreign businesses in places such as Media City and Internet City routinely go to candidates from London, Birmingham or Manchester.
Generations ago, when an altogether different kind of Briton ventured to the Middle East to help unite the Arabs and build their country, such privileged positions were hard-earned.
As one expat, Lucy Roberts, explained scathingly, however, the sad truth is that many of the new British émigrés have only decamped here after failing to forge careers back home.
‘Frankly, there are a lot of idiots here who are working in jobs they shouldn’t be doing,’ said Lucy, 32, who quit her job as a London estate agent and runs a graphic design company.
‘I think the term is “punching above their weight”. They brag a lot and don’t deliver. One girl I know works in PR and thinks