Battle of the Bans

February 19, 2009 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

01-Map_of_Dubai

Before the dust surrounding the UAE’s financial turmoil, which has propelled the tiny monarchy into an unexpected economic crisis, has even settled a new political storm has thrust the nation into headlines heard around the World. Seeking to reestablish its Islamic roots, after decades of catering to Western tourists, the Dubai government is becoming stricter as to what is, and isn’t, acceptable within its borders. Authorities have acted swiftly to issue bans consistent with the current theme of renewing the nation’s Islamic heritage. This past week Israeli tennis player, Shahar Peer, was denied an entry visa into the UAE. As a result, she was unable to participate in the WTA tour. The move taken by authorities to ban Peer from playing was symbolic to show solidarity with the plight of Palestinian people. The decision may have far-reaching consequences for the UAE, with WTA Chief Executive Larry Scott, threatening to remove Dubai from next year’s tour schedule. Authorities have remained unapologetic regardless of future threats.

The latest ban to take effect comes as the first International Festival of Literature in Dubai is set to get underway next week on February 26. One of the invited authors, Geraldine Bedell, who wrote a book entitled The Gulf Between Us has been unceremoniously barred from attending the event. Apparently, organizers failed to read the entire book prior to issuing the invitation. The controversy surrounds one of the minor characters who is a gay sheikh involved in a torrid love affair with an Englishman.  The story is set in the Middle East which was the initial reason why the author was selected to participate in the event. Homosexuality is considered a taboo subject in the Gulf, even though it does exist, as it contravenes Shari’ah.

This is not the first time that a book has been banned by Dubai authorities. In September 2008, British author Christopher Davison found himself on the wrong side of a ban.

He wrote a book entitled Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, which was extremely critical of the unprecedented growth of construction and industry in the region. The book notably cast an unflattering light on the UAE’s ruling family and it was banned from being sold within the country.

The latest ban has drawn criticism from literati from around the world. However, despite the controversy, world-famous authors including Margaret Atwood, Louis de Bernières, Jung Chang and Frank McCourt, to name only a few, are still expected to attend the event.

As the UAE’s love affair with the West appears set to come to a bittersweet end, it’s likely that more bans will follow in a bid to uphold the Islamic values and morals of the country. However with a shaky stock market, plummeting economy and growing exodus of expatriate skilled laborers, the question that remains unanswered is whether it is too late for the UAE to reassert its’ Islamic identity when it finds itself largely at the mercy of wealthy non-Muslim foreign investors.

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