Dubai Deals With Expat Debauchery

Dubai cracks down on foreigners who ignore local laws and religious beliefs.

ByABC News
October 7, 2008, 6:20 PM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 8, 2008 -- Dubai may be the playground of the Middle East, but for expats and tourists, play time here can get out of hand.

In one famous case of expat debauchery this summer, Britons Vince Acors, a tourist, and Michelle Palmer, a resident, were arrested for having sex on a Dubai beach. Also accused of hurling racial slurs and a shoe at the approaching police officer, the couple now faces up to six years in prison.

The Palmer-Acors case highlights a growing frustration with the behavior of Western visitors, not only among Emiratis -- who comprise only 20 percent of the population in their own country -- but also among expats. Roughly a week after the beach arrest, Dubai police announced they had recently detained 79 people for violations of public decency.

Such crackdowns and incidents have fueled a stereotype of the vacationing foreigner, with the British leading in disrepute.

"In the Arab world, being an English girl now means you can't hold down your drink, you're an alcoholic and you're a slut," said one longtime resident of the UAE, who knows Michelle Palmer and spoke to ABC News anonymously.

"I look down on it ... the blatant disrespect because she thought she was above the law."

Britons make up the largest population of Western expats in the UAE. Though the United Kingdom never colonized the country, the British have had a long commercial and cultural presence in the Emirates. Today, Dubai bars such as Rock Bottom and Irish Village, a cluster of pubs, have become the epicenter of British social life.

"[British expats] think they can go where they want and do what they want, but it's not that simple. ... It's still that colonial mentality. Drinking is part of an English institution, and it gets taken to extreme," said the Dubai resident, a British national.

Americans, she says, has a reputation for being more conservative and contained. But opportunities for excess, like all-day, all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffets, make it easy for some Dubai visitors to go overboard. One popular locale, an Australian restaurant named Yalumba, is where friends say Palmer and Acors drank before the beach romp that landed them in court.