Britons jailed, fined for sex on Dubai beach
Trial has exposed cultural divide between native Muslims, foreigners
Karim Sahib / AFP - Getty Images file
Briton Vince Acors, left, who is expected to appeal the verdict, walks out of a Dubai court with an unidentified friend on Sept. 2.
updated 2:08 a.m. CT, Thurs., Oct. 16, 2008
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - A Dubai judge on Thursday ordered a British couple jailed for three months for engaging in sex on a public beach this summer.
Judge Hamdi Mustafa Abu el-Khair sentenced Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors to three months in jail, a fine of $350 and deportation from Dubai after serving their sentence. The two defendants were not in court to hear the verdict their lawyer on Thursday vowed to appeal.
The clash of cultures between residents and the foreigners who flock here to work and play came to a head in the trial of Palmer and Acors, who were accused of having intercourse in public after meeting hours earlier at an all-you-can-drink champagne brunch.
Palmer and Acors were arrested in July and later charged with sex outside marriage, public indecency and drunkenness.
Although Dubai sells itself as a party hot spot, its Arab population hews to conservative Muslim values.
"These are testing times for Dubai, a sunshine state where everything always goes right," said Christopher Davidson, a Dubai specialist at Britain's Durham University.
'Las Vegas of the Middle East'
Dubai has been called the Las Vegas of the Middle East, with its carefully cultivated image as an oasis of liberal entertainment set amid an expanse of conservative countries like Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis ban alcohol and require even foreign women to wear enveloping black robes in public. In contrast, alcohol flows freely in Dubai's hotels and women can wear bikinis on city beaches.
But what most foreigners don't know — and what the government is not advertising — is that beneath the liberal facade is a legal culture based on Islamic laws and tribal rules that looks a lot more like Riyadh than Las Vegas.
While the laws are not always enforced, it is illegal for couples in Dubai to hold hands, hug or kiss in public — much less have sex on the beach.
"On affection in public, the law is clear and very strict," said Khalifa al-Shaali, dean of the law faculty at the University of Ajman, in Dubai's neighboring emirate. "Sex in public is an illegal act."
Palmer and Acors were arrested in July after an unidentified resident reported them to the police for indecent behavior. After a night in jail, they were freed but banned from leaving the country until a court determined their fate.
Both admitted they were drunk but denied having sex.