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Is Dubai safe?

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

Following my previous piece on Zulqarnain Haider, a number of those commenting on the article claimed that Dubai is a safe place. But is it really? In January of this year, top Hamas official Mahmood al Mabhouh was target-killed in Dubai’s al Bustan Rotana Hotel, allegedly by a hit squad working for Mossad. Target killings, terrorist explosions, armed robberies and other violence are all so common in Pakistan that many Pakistanis rate Dubai safer. However, the question they fail to ask is: for whom is it safe? Perhaps for those who put their heads down and get on with their business without questioning the ills of society. But is it safe for whistle-blowers?

Let’s begin with some basic questions. What kind of media freedoms exist in Dubai? Is justice independent of the whims of the ruling class? Does the law protect women, the poor, the weak or the downtrodden? Is labour allowed to form unions? Are political parties allowed to organise? Are the rich expected to pay taxes? Does the public discourse allow debate on whether the rich should pay taxes? How many human rights’ groups are functional in Dubai? How many NGOs operate in Dubai? Is the right to form an association recognised? Is it acceptable to speak of corruption in the higher echelons of society?

The answers to most, if not all, of these questions will be troubling. What would happen, then, to the persons who decided to dedicate themselves to correcting these glaring socio-political imbalances in Dubai? Most likely, it would result in a fate worse than Umar Cheema’s. To those enamoured by Dubai’s Roberto Cavalli-inspired clubs, indoor ski slopes and sky-high shopping malls juxtaposed against Armani abayas, Hermes hijabs and Louis Vuitton handbags, the repression may be too removed to notice. But for those concerned with justice and civil liberties, the veneer of safety is replaced by dangerous consequences.

The exploitation of labour from developing countries is common knowledge. Labour abuses and lack of payment, often likened to indentured servitude, mostly results in deportation rather than rectification upon reporting of the crimes to authorities. I wonder how safe Dubai is for the pipe-fitters who fell through a manhole and died due to lack of attention to safety details. Accidents can happen anywhere, but what recourse do the families of these workers have? Which Dubai-based group can they turn to for help? What would happen if fellow workers tried to unionise and demand higher health and safety standards? Would a Dubai court be willing to rule in favour of the workers and set a precedent that is fair to labour?

On New Year’s Eve 2010, a Pakistani-British girl was raped by a hotel employee in a ladies’ toilet at Dubai Marina’s luxurious Address Hotel. Upon reporting the incident to the police, she became the subject of ridicule and harassment. Instead of investigating the charge, the police jailed the victim and her fiance, who had accompanied her on holiday. Their passports were confiscated and, as they awaited trial, they were told that they could face six years in prison. Although the story went unreported in the Pakistani press, it made headlines in Britain.

The Pakistani press has reported with much zeal and vigour the unfortunate case of Aafia Siddiqui and her American tormentors. It is good to stand up for Pakistanis who have been wronged abroad. But why remain silent on the abuses Pakistanis face daily in Dubai, or the Gulf in general? Is the media playing a part in fooling our people into assuming a false lull of security when it comes to Dubai?

Published in The Express Tribune November 26th, 2010.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan November 26, 2010

Reader Comments (36)

  • Thank you for hitting the nail on the head! Many many thousands of Pakistani labourers have fallen to the way said as the Dubai economy has taken a hard tumble over the past year. Their employers have disapered, taking their passports and wages with them. The Pakistani elite with their second homes loath at criticizing the wondrous Sheikhs of the Gulf. The same could be argued about any part of the Gulf with a sizeable migrant population, the treatment meted out is shameful, yet our nations elite, whether it be politicians or generals who frequent Gulf capitals seem more than willing to remain silent as their own citizens are exploited and treated abysmally. I am not sure what is worse, that our Muslim Brotherly States treat us this way, or that we are more than happy to remain silent while our fellow citizens are exploited?

    Syed Nadir El-Edroos Nov 26, 2010 - 3:11AM
  • they treat pakistani labourers HORRIBLY in dubai!

    someone Nov 26, 2010 - 10:10AM
  • the entrapped pakistani as well as other slave labourers of the gulf states must be freed by force, and their tormenters punished. These arab sheikhs are not above Islamic law!

    someone Nov 26, 2010 - 10:11AM
  • @ all those who thing Dubai is a great place to work/ live.

    Ever hear of camel jockeys????

    MAD Nov 26, 2010 - 11:57AM
  • But they are our holy Islamic brothers!

    R. Khan Nov 26, 2010 - 12:39PM
  • wht a pointless article!
    so there is crime n injustice in dubai too! where isnt???
    u name it every country has it… some more some less
    mentioning a few occasions doesn’t make dubai a threat!
    n u cant even began to compare it to pakistan!! .where such crimes a norm happen everyday n there is absolutely no justice n law n order n no hope for women n the poor…
    pointless article!

    Maya Nov 26, 2010 - 4:16PM
  • Is Dubai safe ? The answer from a Pakistani’s view point is : Yes.
    Dubai has its minus points and they are working at trying to imporove but to be come down with such a heavy hand without saying anything about Dubai’s many plus points it not exactly being fair.

    parvez Nov 26, 2010 - 5:50PM
  • Suggestions for your next article “Is London Safe?”
    Points for your article: High profiled politican Imran Farooq murdered few days ago.
    Hiding place for Pakistani criminals. Will the court rule against the wealth accumulated illegaly by Pakistani politicians? Will the justice be served to the families of those murdered allegedly on the instructions of MQM chief?

    Copper Nov 26, 2010 - 7:06PM
  • Dubai is a transit home (for Pakistan’s past, present and future rulers) to their permanent home , UK.

    Imran Mohammad Nov 26, 2010 - 8:03PM
  • UAE is Islamic country and people are with high religious values and you are never going to be religiously discriminated which is a common practice in Europe and America.
    Murders, rapes and other crimes are normal all over the world, but its the frequency which matters. I guess the number of crimes committed in Dubai per year would be almost equal to the ones committed in England. I think the write has some personal grudges, want to gain attention or may have had bad experience in Dubai, otherwise I don’t see any need for this text.

    Adeel M Nov 26, 2010 - 8:59PM
  • What the writer wrote is 80percent correct but Dubai court is doing its best to provide justice to laborers. I also had filled a case against one of big shot in Dubai and won the case.
    One more thing, Dubai police found the killers of Hamas leader although they run away from the country. But, at least they uncovered the truth. What about the Scotland Yard…did they find the killers of Imran Farooq; slain leader of MQM or Princess of Wales Lady Diana

    Sibte Arif Nov 26, 2010 - 9:02PM
  • Tell me one country which would have investigated and made public that Mosad was involved in the assassination of Hammas leader.

    and the mere fact that you are comparing Hammas’ top leader assassination involving international secret services’ highly sophisticated covert operations with zulqarnain haider, the coward opportunist deserter, is funny to say the least.

    Lastly, by pointing to one or two individual incidents, you are trying to imply that Dubai is not safe? i can only lol about it. there are other countless murder incidents in UK everyday but I’d only refer to MQM leader Imran Farooq’s murder in London because that one incident widely known in Pakistan. So yeah, london is safe?

    Zulqarnain went there for asylum. period.

    silent Nov 26, 2010 - 9:03PM
  • Your whole article is based on two incidents only where I strongly believe that the second one is not as you are reporting. Dubai Police never behave in this manner. I have my personal experience where my mobile was lost and they gave me good response, eventually found it. I can never imagine to report my mobile theft to Pakistani police. I think you forgot to mention the case where a British pair was arrested and punished on having sex on the beach and the one where an arab woman accused one pair in a restaurant that they have kissed each other publicly. Again it was a British pair.
    Your whole article is ridiculous and utter wastage of time.

    Majid Urrehman Nov 26, 2010 - 10:10PM
  • It is much much safer than most of the countries of the world. No country is 100% safe.

    Anwar Nov 26, 2010 - 10:14PM
  • To those who think that by pointing out the Hamas incident or the incident of the rape, etc. I am trying to paint Dubai as a black sheep have completely missed the point of the article. The point is process, not the fact that such incidents don’t happen everywhere. Please read the second paragraph of the article and answer those questions for yourselves—that is the main point of the article and that is my issue with Dubai or other Gulf countries. BTW, I have fortunately not personally had a bad experience in either Dubai or Pakistan or London or the USA—my personal experiences are irrelevant to reality or how transparent or just a society is.

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan Nov 26, 2010 - 10:23PM
  • @Adeel. What discrimination are you talking about in American? The number of Pakistani’s in American are increasing steadily over the years. If there is discrimination in US why are so many of our countrymen moving there? Over 80% of Paks over in US are university graduate and are art of the upper middle class. I lived in US for 13 years and never experienced any religious discrimination. Pakistan is among the top most countries which is guilty of religious discrimination. Be it a Qadiani, christain, shia or a hindu, they all have been massacred at one time or another.
    Most of the readers miss the point the writer is making. She is taking about freedom of press, freedom to organize and freedom of choice. So the Dubai sheikhdom found out the killers of Hamas leader, big deal. What about the killer of afghani guy who was brutally beaten by a Emirates sheikh and videotaped it? Was he ever arrested??? NO. And lest we forget what about the Saudi prince who beat his man slave to death in England? He was convicted and sent to jail and if this murder would have happen in Saudi the prince would still be roaming freely. Ask the many philipino and indonesian maids who are beaten and raped and then sent home every year from Dubai and surrounding sheikhdoms and they will tell you how safe these places are.

    A Suhail Nov 26, 2010 - 11:02PM
  • “Is the media playing a part in fooling our people into assuming a false lull of security when it comes to Dubai?”

    Ayesha, why would media (especially electronic media) get involved in reporting and discussing things that Dubai elite does not want to be reported or discussed when many media groups have their interests placed there?
    Dubai even provides a kinda asylum to some media groups when they are in thick waters in Pakistan for annoying Pakistani Govt.

    Sajjad Ahmed Nov 26, 2010 - 11:09PM
  • Dubai safe from the gangster? If i were ZH i would run to any country except pakistan & UAE… i dont blame him at all..admire his honesty…almost extinct in the land of pure!

    @realMuslim Nov 27, 2010 - 12:35AM
  • Congratulations!!!
    You just earned yourself no entry in the Emirate of Dubai.

    Pakistan One Nov 27, 2010 - 7:54AM
  • Thank you for bringing this issue of Middle-East cruelty to the general reader. As a visitor to Saudi Arab – and not Dubai – one can note that anyone who speaks against the governent, or even mentions the human rights for women or poor or Pakistanis, is a dangerous man. There is no freedom of thought. For instance, all mosques in Saudi Arab as well as in Dubai are Wahabi-based. Barelivis or other people are not allowed their place of worship. Special concessions are made for Shia and Bohra communities in Dubai, as per my information. In a country rife with rape, where reporting is crime and as ably put by the author, you cannot just knock on the door. Officials will not help you. In fact, they will surely victimize you. Therefore, cases or rapes are not heard of although they do happen.

    Ameer Hamza Nov 27, 2010 - 9:51AM
  • Dear Ayesha, well written
    and well pointed out by you. I was unaware of that rape case of the British Pakistani girl in Dubai
    I am guessing it is because the local press or media barely gave it coverage. I did a google search and the British press substantially covered, now I can understand why Dubai as a place that lacks respect human rights and personal liberties was the talk of town pubs, cafe’s and parks while I was in London this Jan. For some reason I strongly, feel the same sentiment that you do, that the police officers who threw the girl and fiance into jail for allegedly having illegal sex, were less concerned about doing justice, more concerned about the couple’s sex life and a hint of jealousy they might have felt.

    Kind Regards


    Deen Sheikh Nov 27, 2010 - 11:24AM
  • I am a Indian woman living in Dubai for the last seven and half years. In all these years , i have found Dubai to be the safest place i have ever been. I have lived in San Francico, Denver, and NYC. Compared to all these places Dubai is a haven. I am surprised at the author’s conclusions.She seems to have generalised isolated cases. I was just wondering if the author try to keep a track of these kinds of cases in NYC or LA , it would so huge , might as well keep her at the task for another 50 years , so much is the volume cases like these in major American cities. Wonder why she decided to take on Dubai,maybe it fashionable, or easier way to get a overseas think tank Fellowship or simply make your article appear in Google news.

    zadiya Nov 27, 2010 - 11:44AM
  • spot on! dxb has everything going what one would read about (happening) in LA or NY or London and here or anywhere, but is all sweeped under the carpet. kidnapping of school kids by cabbies and taken as far as oman border, rape of a french boy which was reported by his mother to CNN, unmarked cabs out to hunt gullible passengers, gruesome murders, hotel infested by russian prostitutes and burglaries, road rage, the tallest building in the world sinking and when the labor refused to go beyond certain stories the salaried increased, and much more! all this is reported by word of mouth and not in print, because it has to appear as the perfect place on the planet. but at the end of the day no one and nothing is perfect.

    saad Nov 27, 2010 - 12:38PM
  • Safer than Karachi. Whichever way you want to look at it.

    P.s: “Are the rich expected to pay taxes? “.. the rich don’t pay tax here either.

    M Khan Nov 27, 2010 - 1:30PM
  • Pretty useless article.. Dubai is much safer than pakistan the first thing. Their ratio of crime has no comparison with that of the so-called democratic states. Secondly demand for media freedoms seems a little more than arguement for the sake of arguement. People living there are unlikely to get into a brawl with the ruling class so why’re we speculating over that? And yes, the law protects women, the poor, the weak and the downtrodden. What has labour unions, political parties and taxes got to do with safety and security? We dont need human rights’ groups or NGOs when there’s no (or I should say least) violation of human rights in the first place. As someone said, crimes occure everywhere, name one part of the world where they dont? Its the frequency that matters. Having said that, yes Dubai is safe!

    SA Nov 27, 2010 - 1:51PM
  • Ayesha
    I have lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, now in Islamabad, Pakistan and just returned back from a holiday visit to Dubai. I must say, Dubai is much safer and even at night you can go out on a walk without fear of getting mugged. Whereas in South Africa carjackings and robberies are common. In Pakistan mobile snatching is common nowadays violent crime is on the rise. In Dubai one of my friend was involved in a road accident, the women who hit his car was apparently a Russian. That woman started shouting and abusing my friend because it was his fault, when the police arrived and saw, they asked my friend if the woman abused him and he said yes. Resultantly, the woman was fined instead. In short, an efficient Police and Interior Service, civil Defense, an emphasis on service delivery, we have a lot to learn from Dubai.

    Umair Nov 27, 2010 - 8:59PM
  • I fail to understand why Dubai bashing is so popular in Pakistan. I think we dervice some deep-seated satisfaction by maligning a city-state that is so far ahead of Pakistan that bridging the gap seems all but impossible. No, you do not have freedom of press, nor the ability to form civil unions. If you fall on the wrong side of the law, then you do not have much recourse. But by giving up these “rights”, you get an environment in which you do not getted mugged on the street, you’re not held on gunpoint, your car is not stolen, you don’t fear for your son’s safety everytime he’s a bit late.

    Dubai is very safe compared to any major city in the world.

    adnan Nov 28, 2010 - 6:06PM
  • Poor Article.
    Just tell me one thing. Is mobile snatching and bank robberies common in Dubai? I guess they are pretty common in Pakistan..Dubai is a lot more safer then Pakistan plus if you refrain from doing anything wrong, this place gives you no trouble..

    Usmaan Nov 28, 2010 - 8:14PM
  • quite a pointless piece of writing really… and an even more pointless heading (is dubai safe) that has nothing to do with the point the author is trying to make. the reason why i say it’s a pointless article is that the negative things being talked about have been discussed a million times over in various blogs, in the british media and elsewhere. so this particular piece is just another exercise in bringing out the bad side of dubai.. the side we have all heard of for god’s sake. talk about something new maybe? for all those dubai bashers, there is a very simple answer: every city has its pros and cons. and dubai is no exception.

    limited media freedom? yes it is limited. nothing negative about the ruling families can be written or spoken about in the media. but in all other aspects it is getting better. i found out about the rape cases (both the british pakistani woman and the french boy) through the gulf news (a dubai based paper). laws? yes… many of them are very vague. and enforcement of the laws is even more so. just use common sense and don’t get yourself in trouble (for those who don’t already know.. drugs are a strict no no and don’t drink and drive). but for these issues and other cons, dubai has so much more to offer to normal law abiding citizens in terms of the pros associated with living in the city. yes it is safe. very very safe compared to a lot of other cities in the world. the standard of living is very high and the cosmopolitan environment allows tremendous opportunities for one’s personal and professional growth. it is an excellent mix of both east and west, i can’t think of any place that is a 1.5 hour flight from karachi yet offers the same (and in many cases better) positive aspects of a western country. there is no load shedding, there is no water tanker mafia, there is no fear of being mugged at gun point in broad daylight, the police is efficient and does actually protect you when you need it. so while one’s heart still aches for the labourer’s conditions and many generally are not happy about the fact that they will never get the nationality, most expatriates are here for the excellent quality of life the city has to offer.

    so ayesha and all the other dubai bashers, please get a life. stop talking about dubai’s obvious problems again and again because we have heard it all and we know the issues, we accept them, agree on them and we also know how the positives FAR outweigh the negatives. instead please concentrate on the more pressing issues that pakistan faces. thanks.

    khizer Nov 28, 2010 - 10:18PM
  • Dubai is not safe from the internationally general standards that the author has mentioned but the problem is most of the readers of this article in Pakistan have also not experienced the true political freedom, so how will they know? Anyway, oil boom has benefited millions of poor south Asians and other people in many ways.

    Mohsin Ahmed Patel Nov 29, 2010 - 12:41AM
  • @ khizer and the rest—FYI, this is the first article I have written about Dubai and I have written extensively about the ills in other countries, including Pakistan. But one thing I have noticed is the super-touchy reaction from the Dubai lovers. Why is it ok to criticise other countries but not Dubai? The lack of media freedom gotten to your psyche?

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan Nov 29, 2010 - 2:26AM
  • I live in London and am in finance. In 2009, I owned a bond which was issued by Nakheel and was further guaranteed by Dubai world. One week before the maturity of the bond some relative of the Shaikh who was the new head of the ministry of finance got this brainiac idea to ask for a “delay”. Not realizing that asking for a delay from the creditors on a bond that is issued under English Law is akin to filing for bankruptcy. They had to reverse their “asking for a delay” decision and ended up paying fully the required amount within the grace period prescribed in the prospectus.

    Why do I write about this? because that incredibly stupid decision created massive turmoil for 2-3 weeks where even Abu Dhabi based banks couldn’t get financing. No one asked the MoF as to why they wanted to ask for a delay when they obviously had the money to repay the bond. I and many others decided to never invest in Dubai where important decisions are so whimsical and questionable protection under the law, because as with everything else, in Dubai things are swept under the carpet and thus there is no bankruptcy law even though it is required.

    Angry Trader Nov 29, 2010 - 2:52AM
  • ayesha, you completely missed the point. it’s fine to criticise dubai.. but do so on perhaps something DIFFERENT? that’s the point. i just added some of the positives in my comments because i would like to voice my opinion about the place… just as you have every right to voice yours (no, the lack of media freedom has not gotten to my psyche). i have read some of your other articles which are very well written and thought provoking.. i am sure you can utilize your time better than churning up rehashed versions of the same old story. happy writing.

    khizer Nov 29, 2010 - 3:12AM
  • @ khizer–I don’t recall saying that you don’t have a right to express your view. Sure you do. But you insist that I should write about something different other than this, which makes me think that you are uncomfortable with criticism of Dubai. You may have read about these things in Gulf News, but I bet Gulf News reported on them after western press had already reported. I was interviewed by them 4 years ago and one of the questions was what I thought of Dubai. I said some positive things and some negative things but they censored out all the negative stuff so there is very little tolerance there for any kind of criticism. Also, I wanted to report the story of the rape in Pakistani press because I believe Pakistanis deserve to know this. If you have knowledge of other articles in the Pakistani press that already mentioned this, please do post them because I didn’t see anything of that sort. One can argue that any story, corruption case etc is rehashed or repeating the same thing but do you tire of that so quickly too as quickly as you do of abuse of Pakistani labour in Dubai?

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan Nov 29, 2010 - 7:24AM
  • Ayesha, again you misunderstood the point completely.. Me saying that write about something different does not mean that I don’t like criticism of dubai. All I am saying is that please by all means criticise dubai about some OTHER aspect. Anyhow, I don’t want you to get incensed any further. I do care about labour abuse in the city etc, as well as other issues (whether involving pakistanis or not). But yes reading about the same thing again and again does get a little mundane.

    khizer Nov 30, 2010 - 7:19PM
  • very ture very ture … nice one keep it up :) alteast u are honest

    Ali Salman Dec 13, 2010 - 5:22PM

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