With her passport back in hand, a Norwegian woman at the center of a Dubai rape claim dispute on Monday said officials dropped her 16-month sentence for having sex outside marriage in the latest clash between the city’s Islamic-based legal codes and its branding as a Western-friendly haven.
Dubai authorities hope the pardon of the 24-year-old woman will allow them to sidestep another potentially embarrassing blow to the city’s heavily promoted image as a forward-looking model of luxury, excess and cross-cultural understanding.
“I am very, very happy,” Marte Deborah Dalelv said after she was cleared by order of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
However, the case points to wider issues embedded in the rapid rise of Gulf centers such as Dubai and Qatar’s capital, Doha, the host of the 2022 soccer World Cup.
These cities’ cosmopolitan ambitions often find themselves at odds with the tug of traditional views on sex and alcohol.
Both alcohol consumption without a proper license and sex outside marriage are outlawed, but the rules are difficult to enforce and generally only become an issue if authorities are alerted. Nowhere in the region are the two sides more in potential conflict than Dubai, where the expatriate workforce outnumbers locals five to one and millions of tourists arrive each year with high-end fun on their minds.
Dalelv, in Dubai for a business meeting, said she told police in March that she was raped by a co-worker after a night that included cocktails. She was held in custody for four days and sentenced last week for illicit sex outside marriage and alcohol consumption.
The alleged attacker, identified as a 33-year-old Sudanese man, was charged with the same offenses and received a 13-month sentence. He was also cleared by a pardon, Dalelv said.
Rape prosecutions are complicated in the United Arab Emirates because — as in some other countries influenced by Islamic law — conviction requires either a confession or the testimony of adult male witnesses.
“I have my passport back. I am pardoned,” said Dalelv, who worked for an interior design firm in Qatar. “I am free, I have my life back. This is a great day.”
Her mother, Evelyn Dalelv, told reporters from Norway she is “incredibly happy” at the outcome, but thinks her daughter would consider returning to the Middle East after pursuing further studies.
“Luckily, she is going back to study in Oslo in the autumn,” she said.
In Norway, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide posted a Twitter message that read: “Marte is released! Thanks to everyone who signed up to help.”
Eide told Norwegian news agency NTB that media attention and Norway’s diplomatic measures helped Dalelv, who had been free on appeal, with her next court hearing scheduled for early September.