A court verdict sentencing two Britons to a brief jail term and a fine in Dubai was greeted as a positive solution to a case that had raised tensions between the city’s native population and its large number of expatriates.
The incident has triggered a heated debate in local papers about the effect of tourism and the majority expatriate population on the Muslim country’s customs and traditions.
A British couple was sentenced on Thursday to three months in jail for having drunken sex in public on Dubai’s Jumeirah beach.
Michelle Palmer, 37, a Dubai resident, and Vince Acors, 34, were also fined 1,000 dirhams (US$270) for drinking alcohol in public.
Palmer, who was fired from her work, denied she was having sex, but witnesses said that the couple were engaged in sexual activity. Their lawyer, Hassan Mattar, said that he would appeal against the court’s verdict.
Foreigners represent about 90 percent of Dubai’s population, far outnumbering local residents, with the largest contingent being South Asian laborers. The city, best known for its gleaming skyscrapers and man-made islands, is often compared to Las Vegas. But underneath the glamour is a social code that frowns on behavior that many Europeans might consider ordinary.
Foreigners on Dubai’s streets on Friday said the case, which raised fears tourism could be impacted, said the verdict seemed reasonable.
Mike Fandr, a British citizen working in Dubai said, “On a personal level, I think they committed an error, and if they did it in London they would have been punished as well,” Fandr said.
Some Europeans said it was reasonable to demand more respect for local culture.
“Some Europeans believe that their nationality would protect them from any legal responsibility, but the incident proved that UAE law is applicable to everyone,” said John Bardi, expatriate living in Dubai.
Emiratis and Arabs who live in Dubai praised the city’s authorities for punishing the couple. Some of them even thought that a harsher punishment was required.
“The incident sparked angry reactions among Arabs and Muslims because it is the first of its kind,” said Hussein al-Shami, an Egyptian who works in a real estate company in Dubai.
He said he has seen Westerners wearing revealing clothes in Dubai, and caressing each other in shopping centers despite Dubai’s more conservative cultural norms.
“Some Britons thought it’s fine to take matters further,” he said.
Khalid Hameed, a UAE government official, praised the court ruling because he said it proved that everyone is equal under the law.
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