A Twitter campaign that links foreigners dressing in skimpy clothing to sexual assault is stirring controversy in Abu Dhabi, as a proposed law to enforce a dress code in public places in the United Arab Emirates gains momentum.
Two Emirati women started an online campaign, UAE Dress Code, last month, but came under criticism after linking revealing clothing and sexual assault.
One of the women behind the campaign, Asma Al Muhairi, 23, told Abu Dhabi newspaper The National she regretted the tweet, but stood by her views.
"A guy might not rape a woman who is dressed like that but it will make him sexually charged and he might rape another," she said.
The campaign calls on visitors to respect the culture of the Muslim country by not dressing provocatively in public places.
“Travelling around the world let u experience the diff cultures. #UAE has its own & no one has the right to change it,” read one recent tweet.
Despite having only 2091 followers at the time of writing, the campaign has drawn attention from media organisations and the government.
Last week, a proposed law on enforcing a dress code from Federal National Council (FNC) of Abu Dhabi received backing from the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, Dr Al Owais.
If a federal law was passed, it would apply to all of the United Arab Emirates, including tourist mecca Dubai.
Dubai FNC member Hamad Al Rahoumi put forward the law and argued that guidelines were not enough.
“If these policies have no law behind them, then how are they (offenders) punished?” Mr Al Rahoumi told The National. “In some countries they do not allow a face veil or a headscarf. We must also have laws to organise our dress code here.”
Emiratis are traditionally conservative. The overwhelming majority of local women wear the full black veil, revealing only their hands and face, while most men wear the traditional white cloak known as the "thawb."
But they are also a minority in their own country. According to latest government estimates, only about 11 per cent of the UAE's 8.2 million population are Emirati nationals.
Local psychologist Nadia Bouhanad says the Twitter campaign reflected a "a fear by Emiratis that they might lose their social values."
One campaign supporter, who identified himself as Ibn Thaleth, insisted the campaign was not an attack on foreigners in the UAE.
"They (foreigners) are allowed to do all sorts of things that we don't agree with," Ibn Thaleth said. "We are not against them ... We are just asking them to show our culture a little respect."
Alcohol, though forbidden in Islam, is readily available throughout the year in bars, clubs and restaurants attached to hotels in most of the UAE.
Pork is also sold in supermarkets in a separate section marked "for non-Muslims only."
The Twitter campaign's logo -- a red circle with a black, short-sleeve, knee-length dress -- is widely recognised in the UAE. It is the same image posted on signs in malls urging women to "please wear respectful clothing."
Several tourists and expatriates have run afoul of conservative rules in the UAE in recent years.
In 2010, a British couple were arrested and sentenced to a month in jail for kissing in public in Dubai.
In 2009, an Australian man was arrested for allegedly saying “What the f---?” to a plainclothes police officer who grabbed his arm at Dubai Airport. He was forced to remain in Dubai for months before being let go with a fine.
In the most prominent case, a British couple were jailed for three months in 2008 after having drunken sex on a public beach.
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