In the second Sex and the City movie the character Samantha gets into a dicey predicament when she’s accused by Abu Dhabi officials of having sex on the beach which outside of marriage is illegal. Although the dream-like trip “the girls” were enjoying in the Emirate state came to a crashing halt after this event, all was still well for Samantha with her landing on her feet per usual. Samantha was able to leave Abu Dhabi with neither a record nor time spent in a Middle Eastern jail, so not really a nightmare. But a Norwegian woman in neighborinhg Dubai was living the nightmare. It was no Hollywood script.
Marte Deborah Dalelv was on a work trip to Duabi when she reported to police that she had been raped by a colleague at the hotel where she was staying. Instead of the authorities looking into the report, Dalelv was detained and then charged with having unlawful sex (remember, sex outside of marriage is illegal in the United Arab Emirates), making a false statement, and illegal consumption of alcohol (alcoholic drinks are banned in Islam but that doesn’t mean they’re not flowing throughout the region). She was subsequently sentenced to 16 months in prison, prompting outrage in Norway and eventually around the world. Coming under fire and condemnation from the global community, the ruler of Dubai (who is also vice president of the Emirates) pardoned Dalelv and she was allowed to leave Dubai with her passport and return home (some had feared she would be deported). It also means that the man Dalelv accused of raping her (a married father), who was also charged with public intoxication and having relations outside of marriage, also goes free (Dalelv had also dropped her case against him).
As a smart and savvy female traveler, I have always done my best to never be put into compromising situations. When I traveled alone previously, I usually did my touring during the day and relaxed in my room in the evenings. While some may say, “you’re missing out by not being social, not going bar hopping with other like minded travelers,” being intoxicated when technically alone in a foreign country is just asking for trouble in my opinion. I would rather be alone and worry free than have a nightmare situation come bearing down at me (someone slipped something into my drink, I was assaulted, etc).
While many men in Latin America (a region I know quite well) need to get with the times where respect for women is concerned (i.e. the catcalls, the verbal harassment), it’s still nothing like in the United Arab Emirates, where it seems a woman’s rights are nill. Although I think visiting the Emirates would be a fascinating experience between the desert landscape, the culture, and even the incredible architecture, I have no desire to visit an area of the world that likes to showcase all of its Western influences (the shopping malls complete with Bloomingdale’s and even a Magnolia Bakery location) but then completely disregards the rights of a woman, the voice of a woman. That respect should be automatically granted to all individuals, not just the male gender.
The expats and the individuals who live and travel there seem to live in a bubble, one complete with fast food restaurants and Western luxuries, even though for the women, they too could end up like Dalelv in a blink of an eye, even when being extremely “safe and cautious.” To know that harm could potentially come to you and you could be the one in trouble is just mind numbing. Yes, perhaps Dalelv drank too much that night she was raped, but she didn’t deserve to be accused of anything after what had happened to her. Ignorance is indeed bliss but it’s sad that Dalelv’s story won’t change more people’s minds about traveling to the Emirates. They’ll continue to go until months in the future we’ll hear about the next Dalelv. It’s a cycle that will continue when a nation showing modernity on the outside, but still clings to ancient and outdated laws and norms on the inside.