Beach sex case verdict welcomed by Dubai locals

A court verdict sentencing two Britons who had public sex to a brief jail term and a fine in Dubai has raised tensions between the city's native population and its large number of expatriates.

The incident has triggered a heated debate in local papers about the effect of tourism and the majority expatriate population on the Muslim country's customs and traditions.

A British couple was sentenced last Thursday to three months in jail for having drunken sex on Dubai's Jumeirah beach.

Michelle Palmer, 37, a Dubai resident, and Vince Acors, 34, were also fined 1,000 dirhams ($A391) for drinking alcohol in public.

Palmer, who was fired from her work, denied she was having sex, but witnesses said that the couple were engaged in sexual activity. Their lawyer, Hassan Mattar, said he would appeal against the court's verdict.

Foreigners represent about 90 per cent of Dubai's population, far outnumbering local residents, with the largest contingent being South Asian labourers. The city, best known for its gleaming skyscrapers and man-made islands, is often compared to Las Vegas. But underneath the glamour is a social code that frowns on behaviour westerners might consider ordinary.

Many foreigners on Dubai's streets said the verdict, which raised fears tourism could be impacted, seemed reasonable.

But Mike Fandr, a British citizen working in Dubai said: "On a personal level, I think they committed an error, and if they did it in London they would have been punished as well."

Some Europeans said it was reasonable to demand more respect for local culture.


"Some Europeans believe that their nationality would protect them from any legal responsibility, but the incident proved that UAE law is applicable to everyone," said John Bardi, an expatriate living in Dubai.

Emiratis and Arabs who live in Dubai praised the city's authorities for punishing the couple. Some of them even thought that a harsher punishment was required.

"The incident sparked angry reactions among Arabs and Muslims because it is the first of its kind," said Hussein al-Shami, an Egyptian who works in a real estate company in Dubai.

He said he used to see Westerners wearing revealing clothes in Dubai, and caressing each other in shopping centres despite Dubai's more conservative cultural norms.

"Some Britons thought it's fine to take matters further," he said.

Khalid Hameed, a UAE government official, applauded the court ruling because he said it proved that everyone is equal in front of the law.

Tourism expert Mohammed Salman said the incident would not have any negative impact on UAE tourism industry. The majority of tourists know they are coming to an Arab country with more conservative social codes.

He added that tourists in Dubai are given full freedom, but sex on the beach would be hard to accept even in Europe.

Expatriates had previously found themselves behind bars in Dubai for drug offences, but the beach sex case appears is a first.

Some 200 nationalities live in the United Arab Emirates, including 120,000 British nationals.