Wednesday, March 27, 2013

27-Mar-13: Final call for Australian travelers to London with Qantas

"UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum inspects headquarters of Dubai Police, February 15, 2011. Greeting him is Commander General of Dubai Police Lt. General His Excellency Dahi Khalfan Tamim, senior officers and a group of children bearing flowers." [Image Source: His Highness' personal website]
Professor Cyril Karabus, whose Kafkaesque imprisonment (on charges of murder and forgery) without trial in the UAE began in August 2012 is now said to be adjudged innocent according to reports in the past few days. Despite this, as of today, the 77 year-old retired paediatric oncologist has yet to receive back his passport from the authorities in Abu Dhabi, is therefore still unable to leave the UAE, and cannot yet fly home to South Africa. 

We will hold off on further analysis of what has been done to him until he is safely out of the UAE.

Meanwhile, Australia's airline QANTAS received approval today from Australia's competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, to form an alliance with the UAE airline, Emirates. Qantas is going to use Dubai rather than Singapore as its stopover point for Qantas flights to London. The first of those Qantas flights to London via Dubai is due to depart this Sunday. It's a deal that was signed in September 2012; the commission's approval arrived with mere days to spare. 

It's said to be economically vital to the future of Qantas, as its chief executive has taken pains to explain over and again; the injection of United Arab Emirates cash and facilities are key to Qantas's efforts to return to profitability. But note that although the agreement between the airlines is for a term of ten years, in the end they received regulatory approval for only five. The deal will have to pass another round of review in 2018. Meanwhile, what will be, will be.

Media coverage of the Qantas/Emirates alliance offers subtle but significant hints as to the cultural differences between the Emirates and the west. Reuters reporting from Sydney points out that in addition to ACCC cutting the "the desired alliance timeframe" in half (to 5 years), it determined that the deal would produce "material, but not substantial" public benefits. No sign of that hesitation appears in the comprehensive report appearing in the Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National, today.

As friends keep telling us, Dubai has a name for being all business, shopping and luxury, with everything else - politics, religion, social conventions - taking a back seat. Does this make Dubai, or any other part of the entirely-undemocratic UAE, some kind of gold-plated laissez-faire paradise? Hardly. People who get on the wrong side of those in charge in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other corners of the UAE have very few of the options or rights to due process that westerners take for granted

The U.S. State Department said in a 2010 report that Dubai's constitution "guarantees an independent judiciary", in reality it is the "political leadership” that makes decisions and "defendants can spend months without being charged and are often unfairly denied bail."

What else should travelers know about going there? Quite a lot, actually. A startling article by Robert Upe, a travel and tourism writer, in the Melbourne Age/Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, provides some practical guidance. It's called "Don't kiss, don't swear: rules of a Dubai stopover", and its timing is driven by the start of the Qantas romance with the desert airline. And for the record, the threats go way beyond kissing and swearing

Some highlights of the Dubai/UAE experience:
Dubai metro: "Don't take offence, don't continue to try
and sort something out, simply hand it over to a male
colleague... The fact that he is male will make all the difference
.'' [Image Source]
  • Australia's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns on its website that de facto relationships, homosexual relationships and acts of adultery and prostitution are subject to severe punishment.
  • It is an offence "to share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related".
  • In a tortuous circumlocution, DFAT warns that "Australian travellers of Jewish background who are Israeli passport holders" are allowed to pass through Dubai. But leaving the airport is strictly verboten. This is because the UAE is an active participant in "the Arab League boycott of Israel". That boycott is itself illegal in several parts of the world; the US government's Office of Antiboycott Compliance (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) keeps a watchful eye out for businesses that quietly, but illegally, go along with the Arab league's efforts. And for the record, the boycott was created to deter Jewish immigration into what is now the State of Israel long before the state was proclaimed in the wake of a UN decision in 1947. The Arab League formalized the boycott right after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War when there were zero (so-called) occupied territories and no security barrier. The UAE's continuing compliance with the boycott is an egregious reminder of how much nonsense is used to justify anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities in so many quarters.
  • "Cultural misdemeanours", meaning holding hands in public, swearing, harassing women with a prolonged stare, wearing inappropriate clothing, may result in imprisonment or judicial fines.
  • Qantas says Jewish and Israeli passengers will be safe transiting through Dubai as long as they don't plan of stepping outside the building. But then what happens "in the event of a catastrophe or severe weather when airport hotels are full?'', asks Radha Stirling of the non-profit Detained in Dubai organization. Operating under the mantra "Detained in Dubai exists to free people from the chains of injustice", the group helps people in "legal difficulty" in the United Arab Emirates. Qantas travelers might want to write its phone number inside their passports just in case. No, on reflection, it might be better to put somewhere safer than that. The number of their London office is +44 7050 686 745
  • Detained in Dubai points out that getting into serious trouble in Dubai/UAE is easy: ''Just one person needs to take offence and to make a complaint and you can be in serious trouble and be held in custody for a long time if you challenge the charge."
  • Drinking in public "can land travellers in strife", says Upe. 
  • Qantas has been putting its staff through what the article calls "cultural training". The key take-away: "Customer issues with UAE passengers may be best solved by a man. Don't take offence, don't continue to try and sort something out, simply hand it over to a male colleague. It doesn't matter whether you are the manager or supervisor, the fact that he is male will make all the difference.''
  • And if you don't do well with that whole 'cultural training' aspect? So here are a few outcomes mentioned in the article that travelers might want to think about: A British couple were jailed for three months in 2008 after having drunken sex on a public beach. A different British couple were arrested in 2010 and sentenced to a month in jail for kissing in public in Dubai. In 2009, an Australian man was arrested for allegedly saying “What the f---?” to a plainclothes police officer who grabbed his arm at Dubai Airport. He was forced to remain in Dubai for months before being let go with a fine.
  • The Age/SMH article offers the following helpful guidelines that originate with Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. Offensive language, spitting, aggressive behaviour and smoking outside designated areas are not tolerated. Public displays of affection such as holding hands or kissing are not tolerated. Men should avoid staring at local women or attempting to make eye contact. During Ramadan while Muslims are fasting from dawn to dusk, non-Muslims can only eat  and drink in screened-off areas in many hotels and restaurants.
Finally, bear in mind that when the senior Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was assassinated under murky and still unresolved circumstances in February 2010, he was free to enter, move around and base himself in Dubai without any evident concern about security or legal matters. Notwithstanding the sharp focus on making money, Dubai appears to set no great barriers in the path of active terrorists. How consistent or conflicting this is with the guidelines above is a matter that readers, especially those who are eligible to enter the place (unlike us), may want to ponder.


Anonymous said...

World Medical Association warns members to think twice about working in the UAE.

This Ongoing War said...

As it happens, we are in the midst of preparing a post about this WMA call to "action". Of course, it is no call to action at all, but a mere advisory, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.