UAE lifts alcohol regulations, increases likelihood of arrest
In a move intended to further boost tourism, the UAE has relaxed the regulations on buying and consuming alcohol; but Gulf expert Radha Stirling warns the new rules do not make drinking any safer for foreigners in the Emirates.
Stirling, who is the CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, explains that the purchase and consumption of alcohol has never been the core legal issue in the UAE that puts visitors at risk of arrest, “The Emirates has suspended the sales tax on alcohol and is now offering free licenses to buy, drink, and transport alcohol,” She says, “This will make tourists and expats feel that it is now acceptable and safe to drink in the UAE; but that is a misreading of the situation. You could always buy and drink alcohol in the Emirates, albeit after jumping a few regulatory hurdles; very few people got arrested or prosecuted for purchasing or possessing alcohol. The real issue is that the UAE has no legally specified blood alcohol level that constitutes intoxication, which remains illegal. Essentially this means that someone can be arrested for having any trace of alcohol in their bloodstream.”
The new freedom to buy, transport, and drink alcohol, Stirling says, only increases the danger of arbitrary arrest for tourists who partake. “We have seen cases of visitors who were served a glass of wine on an Emirates flight being arrested upon arrival after testing positive for alcohol in their system,” she says, “They UAE provided the alcohol, allowed the passenger to drink, and then arrested them for having it in their bloodstream. This scenario plays out all the time across the UAE, and the relaxed regulations will likely only increase the frequency of such arrests because people will interpret the greater tolerance for alcohol sales to mean it is safe to drink. But the moment they take a sip of alcohol, they become immediately vulnerable to arrest for intoxication.”
Convictions for intoxication in the UAE can result in up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Dirhams. “When you consider that any country seeks tourism for the purpose of boosting revenues,” Stirling explains, “You cannot dismiss a profit incentive behind the encouragement to drink alcohol in the UAE. The average tourist in Dubai will spend approximately £5,000 to £10,000 over the course of their holiday. A single arrest for intoxication can instantly double that amount, not including whatever extra they might spend on a local attorney or the cost of extending their stay throughout the legal proceedings.
“The legal system in the UAE, from police to prosecutors to the courts, is neither independent nor adherent to due process; arbitrary arrests, forced confessions, fabricated evidence, torture of detainees, collusion between all branches of the system to expedite convictions; are all absolutely routine. Baseless and vindictive accusations by Emiratis against foreigners result in rapid convictions that can turn a night out in Dubai into an expensive, months-long nightmare for any tourist who happens to be targeted. The new openness towards alcohol will make for an easy intoxication arrest because tourists can be charged with drunkenness even after one drink.
“If the UAE was serious about accommodating Western visitors and making the country more tolerant, they would define the blood alcohol limit for intoxication, not just make it easier to be arrested.”
Founder & CEO at Detained in Dubai