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Licensed to drink
Inconsistencies between the law on drinking liquor and its application will need to be straightened out if Dubai cares about its tourism.
February 27, 2011 3:57 by Eva Fernandes
Oh the wonderful contradictions that make up Dubai! Maz Jobrani, a comedian from the Axis of Evil, in one of his routines jokes about how in Dubai, you can stumble out of a night club, the thumping beats still making your ears ring, and find yourself right opposite a mosque with the call to prayer ringing out through the air. Of course, Jobrani’s routine, complete with some pretty insane dancing and beat boxing, make this contradiction rather funny. But the reality is, if you get arrested and thrown in jail for falling foul of such a contradiction, it becomes a lot less funny.
Take, for instance, the uncertain business that is the UAE liquor license. As 2010 drew to an end, the local newspapers were full of stories detailing the absolute requirement for a liquor permit if you want to consume alcohol in public. As per federal law, consuming or purchasing alcohol without a license, whether you are a tourist or a resident, is a crime punishable by law. Muslims are prohibited by law from obtaining a licence.
Of course, such news was a head scratcher for Dubai’s legions of expat residents, who have been drinking in local pubs for decades without ever being asked for a permit.
But those who should be most baffled by this law are tourists. How exactly are you supposed to acquire a license for a week long stay in the UAE? (Licenses are only issued to residents and they require approval from your sponsors.)
Now where does the not-so-funny funny contradiction come in? Well, it plays in every single bar, nightclub or pub in Dubai that never asks its customers to produce a liquor license when it serves them. Kipp can testify that we’ve never ever been asked to show a liquor license when we’ve gone out for a drink. And according to the National, the majority of consumption is in bars, hotels or nightclubs, with more than 82 percent of alcohol purchases taking place there leaving only 17.7 percent of sales happening at alcohol vendors.
Local authorities have themselves admitted that the law and its sporadic application are confusing. A chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution told The National earlier this week that, as tourists cannot get alcohol licenses, should they be caught consuming or buying alcohol they could technically be charged for committing a crime. He said “I acknowledge that this is confusing and is a grey area to tourists, but to be on the safe side, they should not drink based on the fact it’s an Islamic country. Tourists should stay away from trouble and not drink at all or drink in secret.”
Drink in secret? Kipp likes the idea of hundreds of speakeasies opening across the country, but we’re afraid the authorities will probably need to make a better effort to clarify this situation. Otherwise it will negatively affect tourism in Dubai, which of course is one of Dubai’s major sources of income.
Take for instance, the case of the 37-year-old non-Muslim man, identified as DK, who was sentenced this week and ordered to pay a Dh1,000 fine for consuming alcohol. The 37 year old Brit tourist had gone out drinking one night and lost his passport by the time he had got home. When he went to the police to report that he had lost his passport they asked him if he had consumed alcohol; and shortly after arrested him on charges of illegal drinking.
When stories like these get out in the international press, they have the power to make potential tourists think twice about coming to Dubai – and if you’re building a large section of your economy around tourism that is not a good thing.