Does the arrest of Jamie Harron show a darker side to Dubai?

By Dylan Graham

Dubai. The city of record breaking skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, bucket-list holidays and… ultra-conservative laws. Jamie Harron, a Scottish electrician on a two-day stopover in the city, knows this better than anyone after becoming the brunt of Dubai’s public indecency laws.

Whilst drunkenly walking through a bar, Harron accidentally touched another man’s hip in an attempt to avoid spilling his drink. That’s right: he simply touched another man’s hip, and shortly after got arrested for doing so.

I’m not going to lie – my initial reaction when I first heard about this story was pure amusement. This surely couldn’t be real? Being bumped into in a crowded bar is unavoidable, but the more I read into the event, the more shocked I was.

Businessman Emad Tabaza seemingly took great offence to Harron’s actions, as he promptly called the police, claiming that the Scot was ‘very drunk’ and ‘repeatedly’ touched him on the hip.

The fact that the police took this case so seriously clearly shows how conservative the city is. Jamie Harron’s ordeal shows another side to Dubai. It seems that there’s more to the place than the world-famous malls, water parks and seven star hotels that you always hear about.

As bad as it is, being arrested for accidentally touching a man’s hip is just a scratch on the surface of the downright oppressive laws and unglamorous undertones in Dubai. This is a city where homosexuality and apostasy are punishable by death, and where labourers live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as ‘less than humane’.

The narrative of Dubai being a luxurious holiday destination needs to be reassessed. The city thrives off of tourism, an industry that adds billions of dollars to its economy every year. It has successfully established itself as an exotic, middle eastern city whilst also incorporating many attributes of Western culture.

However, Jamie Harron is now another name on the ever-growing list of tourists in Dubai finding themselves wrapped up in their ultra conservative laws. When stories like these break, it brings light on how oppressive the city can be, and what life may be like for an ordinary person living in Dubai.

Of course, it is important to note that tourists should be respectful and understanding of the culture of the city. There’s nothing worse than rowdy Brits on a week-long bender in Malia, and I’m not suggesting that Harron should have been able to go around on the streets drinking and causing havoc.

But for what was such a simple, harmless mistake, Jamie Harron has been unjustly treated as a result of the public indecency laws in Dubai. The ordeal has cost him his job and over £30,000 in expenses and legal fees, changing his life forever.

Harron’s story ends more positively, as he has now returned to Scotland after the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, personally exonerated him.

However, it’s difficult to say whether events would have played out differently had Harron’s story not gained so much media coverage.

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