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Treading the fine line between inclusion and exclusion on Dubai’s beaches
"The notion of a beach segregated by nationality worries me. I’ve lived across the Gulf, including in Saudi Arabia, and while the concept of foreigners-only beach compounds is familiar to me, I’ve never heard of a female beach which is segregated based on nationality."
April 24, 2013 10:20 by Alex Malouf
The National published an interesting news article this week, which was simply titled ‘No men allowed: Dubai extends hours for women-only beaches.’ The gist of the story is simple: for four days of the week women will have the option of bathing at one of two beach parks that will be exclusively for them. All of the staff at the beach parks, at Jumeirah Beach Park on Monday and Wednesdays and Al Mamzar on Sundays and Tuesdays, will be female. No males will be allowed to step foot in the parks, either as guests or as employees.
Us, guys, always cry foul, especially when we’re on the receiving end of a decision such as this. But the need to have privacy when on the beach is natural, especially in the Gulf. The mix of cultures often means that there will be people on the beach who may make others very uncomfortable (how many of you who have experienced ‘the stare’ while on one of Dubai’s beaches). In every country around the Gulf there are private beaches, compounds and secluded spots which offer people the choice to bathe in privacy.
What drew my attention is the additional segregation at the beaches. Both Al Mamzar and Jumeirah Beach Park will have sections demarcated for nationals which will be separate from those parts of the beach reserved for female tourists.
The notion of a beach segregated by nationality worries me. I’ve lived across the Gulf, including in Saudi Arabia, and while the concept of foreigners-only beach compounds is familiar to me, I’ve never heard of a female beach which is segregated based on nationality. The National’s journalist notes that the reason for such a decision is two-fold. Firstly, there’s the swimwear worn by tourists. And, secondly, there’s the differing needs of each group. To quote Ahmad Abdul Kareem, the director of the parks and horticulture department from the article itself.
“We decided to classify our beaches according to needs of different visitors. Tourists want to swim, but local women come with friends, children, bring their own food and enjoy the day.”
For me, this is more than competing interests. It’s not simply about whether Dubai wants to be a global tourism hub or preserve its traditions and culture. This is about how Dubai’s various groups want to interact and live together. Will we come to a point where different nationalities live their lives based on their own norms and customs, and in essence separate themselves from the rest of society? And what is best, to educate and integrate, or segregate and ignore the other?
The question comes down to this – how can the Emirate foster a community spirit that embraces all and helps us to teach one another how best to respect and celebrate our differences? Is segregating a beach by nationality preferable to education and is ignorance the preferred option. As I’m not allowed in to the beach on women’s day I won’t be able to raise my voice and say I think there’s a better solution for Dubai’s female-only beaches. I hope others won’t stick their heads in the sand, but rather ask what can we do to make the places in which we live a more understanding, inclusive society? I, for one, think the beach is a great place to start.
A British national with Arabic roots, Alex has spent ten years in the Gulf and has lived in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Alex lost his heart to journalism years ago, but he has worked with a range of multinational companies in the technology, energy and financial sector to develop marketing and communications approach to the region. He’s currently based in Dubai but calls Bahrain home.