Dubai, Sex, and Rampant Generalizations

05/17/2010 11:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An interestingly divisive article on Dubai's penchant for jailing kissing couples while allowing open prostitution has been published in the Observer UK, here. It can be found on page 23 of the print version, as per twitter sources.

The piece draws a stark contrast between being jailed for PDA (public displays of affection) while being allowed to pursue with reckless abandon the sex workers Dubai is apparently famous for.

All us men are supposed to "transform in July and August into priapic stallions roaming the bars of Sheikh Zayed Road." Ah, but if only - those hot stifling months, for me, have never offered stuff to write home about, or even NOT write home about.

There's a number of eloquently injudicious turns of phrase - for instance this gem: "For expats in Dubai, the summer months provide virtual laboratory conditions for infidelity." The brushstrokes are sufficiently broad to paint the side of a barn.

But challenging hyperbole sentence by sentence is not my remit.

An acquaintance, Alexander McNabb, has already pulled the piece apart assertion by assertion, challenging Mr "Butler," and the actual author behind the convenient pseudonym, to produce facts verifying his flights of prose. Mr. Mcnabb's dissection of the piece can be found here.

But give Mr. "Butler" his due. He has apparently lived here, and knows how the system works. There is more than a hint of garnish in the detailed escapades on offer, but the core of his argument remains sound. Dubai may not be the absolute den of inequity he makes it out to be, but there is no denying that sex workers are turned a blind eye towards.

But herein lies the point. Dubai's pact with its residents is that the powers-that-be remain laissez faire in private matters as long as these don't spill over into the public domain. That is what makes Dubai successful as an entrepot, tourism hub and inclusive place to live; there is no one single norm of behaviour. To each their own, as long as it is kept to one's own. Of course, hydroponic herbs are excepted from this tolerance; even trace elements will land you in serious trouble.

The kissing couple Mr. "Butler" chooses as counterpoint was unfortunate. The authorities will mind their business and let you mind yours as long there is no official complaint. In this instance, one was lodged for lewd behaviour by an affronted Emirati mother.

While there are many - both UAE nationals and expatriates - troubled by the details of that case, it has not changed the basic social bargain that Dubai offers. Despite the return of the old, more conservative guard in the wake of Dubai's recent financial pains, it still remains a city of grey, and one that affords freedom to the individual as long as said individual is aware of boundaries.

This is not an attempt to be an apologist for the city I live in. It has flaws that need to be addressed, both by Emiratis and expatriates who are invested in the community here. I am merely trying to add some context to an article that, for all its elaborations, lacks any.

Mr. "Butler" may have been sufficiently lucky to find company universally imbibing curry and beers before discussing sexual positions, but there are more mundane people out here. Some of us discuss boring politics and books over wine before settling to a game of cards. We're now feeling deprived.