Hidden behind Dubai’s modern façade is a battle between its ambition to be a tourist mecca and its conservative laws to deal with rape.
With its luxury high-rises and shopping malls chock-full of designer shops, Dubai exudes the cosmopolitan façade of a city firmly set in the shiny 21st century. Complete with the tallest building in the world, it seems to be the beacon of modernity in the oil-saturated United Arab Emirates. And tourism numbers show the outside world agrees. This May, the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index ranked Dubai seventh among cities with the most international travel and spending. But in the past few years, a series of high-profile jailings of foreigners depicts a very different Dubai, one not on the travel posters: a conservative country governed by hard-line Islamist law and patrolled by police who are more inclined to blame victims than catch the perpetrators of sexual violence.
Last Wednesday, 24-year-old Marte Deborah Dalelv returned home to Norway from a nightmarish ordeal. In the months prior, she claimed she’d been raped by a colleague after a night out with her business partners during a work trip in Dubai. Upon reporting the case to the police, she was ultimately convicted of extramarital sex (a jailable offense in the country), drinking alcohol, and perjury—and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.