UAE: Behind the Modernity

Planning to relocate to the UAE this upcoming school year? More than one expat has mistakenly allowed themselves to be lulled into believing the United Arab Emirates is a modern, progressive nation. Incredible architecture, modern roadways, world-class malls and high-line cars are all evocative of affluent, Western cities. 

But that may be where the comparison stops. Behind the mask of modernity, the UAE continues to adhere to a stultified, archaic system of laws that can entrap even the most savvy of travelers.

 Read on! These recent cases involving foreigners defy all logic and serve as a “heads up.” 

Teacher jailed for allegedly insulting the UAE on Facebook:  A British teacher has been locked-up in a vermin-infested jail in Abu Dhabi since October 2017. The charges? Writing an insult on Facebook. Christian Wilke, 39, was denied legal representation for 52 days after his arrest. At his hearing, conducted in Arabic, he was not told the charges against him and sentenced to one year in prison along with a stiff fine. He is reportedly being denied medical care and sufficient food. His mother fears for his life.

News articles about this case: 
British Teacher Jailed in UAE
British Teacher Sent to Hell Hole Jail in UAE

Man jailed in Dubai for WhatsApp message sent to crooked car dealer:  Yaseen Killick, 29, a British real estate agent, was jailed after sending a WhatsApp text message to the car dealer who sold him a car that broke-down just hours after driving off the lot: “How do you sleep at night knowing you’re ripping people off? I’ll see you in court.” This was enough to motivate the police to jail Yaseen as the dealer claimed he felt threatened.

News article about this case:
British Real Estate Agent Jailed After Messaging Car Dealer Who Sold Him a Lemon

British Woman Faces Jail in Dubai after Witnessing Bar Fight:  Asa Hutchinson, 21, an accounts manager for a global transport company, says she was not even there when a fight broke out between her friends and a man who was reportedly drunk. On their way out of the bar, Asa’s friends saw a man passed out on a bench. They took some selfies with the guy, who woke up and started throwing punches. It’s been reported that it is common in the United Arab Emirates for witnesses to be arrested and prosecuted just for being nearby.

News article about this case:
British Woman Faces Jail in Dubai

There’s More:  In September, a man was detained for ‘flipping the bird’ to another driver. In October a man was jailed for accidentally touching another man’s hip in a bar. In November a man was imprisoned for having smoked marijuana – before he had even arrived in Dubai. An expatriate couple was detained for 6 weeks for having sex outside of marriage.

You could take a hard stance and say all these people should have done their homework, learned the local customs and taken responsibility for themselves. Easier said than done. Some things are just unimaginable and beyond the foresight of a Westerner. Wherever in the world your next teaching assignment takes you, ISR recommend extensive research into the customs, traditions and laws.

More ISR Articles about problems for Westerners in the UAE:
Women, Rape and the Law in UAE
Collect on Everything a UAE School Owes You
Buying a Car Overseas Can Land You in Prison
Janitor at Al Rabeeh School Abu Dhabi Sentenced to Death

Comments or Questions? Please Scroll Down to Participate

20 thoughts on “UAE: Behind the Modernity

  1. Once again, ISR publishes a negative article, rife with loaded language and linking to dodgy sources, at best (The Sun and the Daily Mail? Seriously?) I spent 10 fantastic years in the Middle East and miss the people and the atmosphere. Yes, you need to be aware of cultural differences; presumably that’s why we’re overseas. Yes, there are miscarriages of justice, but the West can’t claim much better. It just doesn’t happen to “white” people as much. Welcome to the rest of the world.


    1. There are “cultural differences” that are manageable, such as varying table manners, and “cultural differences” that are insurmountable, for me and others, such as rampant sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. There are”miscarriages of justice” that are bearable, such as punishment for not standing during a national anthem, and “miscarriages of justice” that are unendurable for such as me, such as the rounding-up of otherwise law-abiding citizens for public expressions of affection, and the murder by security forces of scholarly researchers (cf. “Giulio Regeni”). In my opinion, there is nothing exaggerated or inappropriate in these warnings; if you can live with these kinds of cultural shibboleths, fine, but there are a great many of us who cannot—and I say that as one who has lived in Asia and Europe for a large part of my life!


    1. Andre Aciman, who knows a lot about it, says that the desert is opening up and swallowing Egypt, but he doesn’t rejoice in it.


  2. Lived in the UAE for 9 years and am still in close contact with former students, their parents, and colleagues. I’m American and non-Muslim, and though I certainly was no angel while living there, not once did I or anyone I know have trouble with the police. Those of us from western cultures cannot expect that the locals and governments of other countries will afford us the same rights and privileges as if we were living at home. It’s just not the case. Know the norms, respect the people, and you’ll be fine. That being said, it is fair to say that living in the UAE isn’t for everyone.


  3. When you work in the ME you have to realize that to many affluent families think of you as a teacher working for them, which places you just a step above their maid or driver who are virtually slaves.


    1. Yes, and beyond the problem of the religious fanaticism and sectarianism of the masses, there is, as you suggest, a total lack of social consciousness among the rich, who are most of the indigenous clientele of the international schools. Their allegiance to the finer principles of oligarchy, as well as their loyalty to the political authoritarianism that makes “crony capitalism” work in their countries, makes it practically impossible to apply the critical thinking and the “inquiry-based” learning that the IB posits to real-life situations and the circumstances of the majority in those places. Such “inquiry” is immediately shut down. In Egypt, for example, you, as a history teacher, would get in deep trouble with the authorities for presenting the real story of what happened to the Egyptian Army in the 1971 conflict with Israel over the Sinai.


    2. There is another consideration, as well. In Muslim-Arab countries in which an oligarchic elite don’t rule absolutely, thus ensuring the survival of international schools for their children, and only their children–in other words, in countries like Egypt–there are powerful currents among the less privileged of resentment and xenophobia regarding such schools, as is evidenced by this recent news from Egypt:


  4. Qatar has “family day” on Friday which means if you are an Asian male worker you are not allowed into shopping malls , parks, beaches on their only day off. White single males no problem.
    The most rascist country in the world, How they can be hosting the World Cup defies logic.


  5. well, I am so happy I decided to avoid the Middle East after reading this . Chinese have their issues but nothing comparable to this.


  6. My advice: stay away from the Muslim Arab world under all circumstances, unless you are an EXTREMELY “conservative” person. It’s not just that their religious sensibilities are easily offended; one can tell from these stories that they actually go LOOKING for affronts. Their xenophobia is a result of the huge offense they still take to our historic imperialism in their region; as many of the historians and cultural critics have attested, they have never gotten over it. Some of these scholars have suggested that, historically, they believed that their revelation of “God’s word” in the form of the Qu’ran gave them the right to rule other peoples. The Indian Muslims used to tell me that the Arabs believe they “own Islam.”


  7. A horrible. fake, superficial country that is barbaric and medieval in some of its practices. Smug foreigners are not immune.


  8. I am a teacher and i have lived in the UAE for several years. I find it a safe place to raise a family. If people want to live there they should respect the customs and culture of the UAE. It is a peaceful and polite society and as long as you are concervative you should not face any problems. If you are looking for a western environment then you must go to a western country. You would expect visitors to the UK to obey the laws of the country so why not those expats living in the UAE. It’s not like you don’t have a choice of where to live!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This argument misses the point. I know someone who was accused of hitting a child at a hotel pool. He had merely spoken to the unruly child after said child refused to respond to staff. What gets reported is acted upon without due process. He was arrested and spent a week in jail before cameras were examined and he was released and given an apology; apparently without charge. A month later he was summoned to court, denied legal representation, all proceedings in Arabic and hefty fine. All unwarranted and unnecessary. THAT’S the point! I lived there and know many similar stories.


  9. You must be utterly desperate to want to work anywhere in the Middle East. They seem to hate all foreigners and find ways to exploit them. Lots of stories on the internet.


    1. That is completely ridiculous. The Middle East is a huge area and each country/region is different. The Gulf is only one part of the ME. It is ignorant and completely unprofessional for an educator to say such a thing as you have.

      I have lived in both Egypt and Lebanon. Incredible countries and yet so different. I did not have any problems in 5 years and had a very full and ‘nonconservative’ life. It’s about understanding the cultural rules of where you live and respecting them. Plus, I CHOSE to live in those places. I wasn’t desperate or doing it for the money. Some of us actually appreciate culture that is different than our own, including the Arab world. Egyptians and Lebanese were wonderfully welcoming and I have never lived anywhere in the world where I felt so safe.

      Give a place a try before you judge it…


    2. As the person who posted about the bad experience in Qatar (spoiler alert: it was definitely not TB), I completely agree. What happened in Qatar I do not use to paint broad strokes across the Middle East. Other parts of the Middle East I visited were amazing and any historian would instantly fall in love with the countries of the Levantine.


  10. None of the stories really surprise me. I have one of my own to add. When I did my medical in Qatar, they found a spot on my lung. This had been spotted previously by doctors in Western countries and after further examination it was determined not to be malignant. When doctors in Qatar spotted it however, they wanted to investigate further. Fair enough. Imagine my surprise when they, the Ministry of Health, which is staffed by people who are not doctors, determined that I had tuberculosis and therefore gave me 10 days to pack my things and board a plane. This left me in December jobless and deep in debt. I noticed at a recent job fair that one school in the UAE does mention on their recruitment page that any indicator of certain illnesses, no matter how slight, might bar a person from working in the Gulf. I think more schools should follow suit. I would add that while the glitz and glamour of the Gulf is enjoyable, teachers need to realize they are going to work in what is effectively a slave state for migrant workers, and professionals hired from Western countries do not fare much better.


    1. “teachers need to realize they are going to work in what is effectively a slave state for migrant workers, and professionals hired from Western countries do not fare much better.”

      I can’t argue about the first part of your statement but the second part is absolutely ludicrous.


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