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Don’t say Cheese!
If not addressed by the authorities, the recent charges against a man who claims he took a photograph of the Grand Mosque, can hurt the UAE’s reputation as a tourist hub thinks Kipp.
December 6, 2011 4:07 by p.deleon
With a few relatives in Dubai for a quick vacation, I’ve found myself doing the dreaded tour guide routine that every Dubai-ite is well aware of. Look we have a ski slope in the middle of the desert, look we also have the tallest building beside the biggest mall and look, there is the world’s only seven-star hotel—if you been here as I have for a bit, you know the schpeel. And if you’ve done the rounds with your visiting tourist loved ones, you’d also know that at some point of the tour you going to do the ‘debunking the Dubai is a super-conservative-overtly-Islamic-city-where-you-can-and-will-get-arbitrarily-deported-for-anything-you-do myth.’
This time around, for some reason I became acutely aware of just how convinced my tourist-relatives were of the stereotypes of the Middle East. “Do they allow you to celebrate Christmas here?” “Will you go to jail if you have too much to drink in public?” “Are the birds permitted to sing during prayer time?” OK, so the last question was a bit of a stretch…nonetheless you get my drift. I couldn’t help but wonder where these perceptions come from? So I asked them. Mostly word of mouth, but a lot too it seemed, to be of what they read in the international press.
Now, there have always been the Johann Hari and the A.A. Gill’s who have made a name for themselves engaging in unscrupulous Dubai-bashing. Dubai-bashing, remember that? Somewhere in between building the tallest building in the world and the Dubai debt crisis, British tabloids took great pleasure in that lazy, sensational and easy sport of exaggerating the complexities of living in the Gulf to make Dubai out to be a trashy cultureless place which likes to arbitrarily make examples of drunken expats. But, Dubai and the UAE in general have held their own—they’ve managed to make it out of a particularly difficult debt crisis and still maintain their own.
Which is why, when I read about the last photographer to be jailed for taking a picture near Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Disappointed for providing Dubai-bashers the perfect fodder for their next article…
Just in case you haven’t heard, a man was charged of illegally photographing a public building, though he claimed he was only taking pictures of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. He denied that he was taking photographs of the Armed Forces General Headquarters which are near to the Grand Mosque. This case follows three other such incidents earlier this year including an Iranian tourist who was taking photographs of the Presidential Palace in Ras Al Akhdar, the two Bangladeshi men who were accused of taking photos of the Yas Marina Circuit and the Korean architect who was recently charged with photographing the Iranian and Syrian embassies.
It is hard to deny that Yas Marina Circuit and the Grand Mosque are popular tourist attractions. In fact, I am quite certain several tourists have taken pictures at the very same spots in the past. Why, the authorities chose to make an example of the above cases, is beyond me—but it is something that should be addressed. If not, the UAE’s reputation as a tourist destination will surely suffer by extension.