For most of us of a certain age, the first time we heard the name United Arab Emirates was when beleaguered Don Revie gave the press what they wanted by walking out on the England team manager’s job in 1977. However, rather than skulking into some poorly-paid coaching post in the Second Division, Revie secured his own and his family’s financial future by signing a lucrative deal with the UAE to coach the country’s national side; for his shrewd foresight, Revie was hung, drawn and quartered by the FA, yet he would have been a fool to turn down an opportunity that few in the English game had back then. Today, the likes of José Mourinho can be sacked by a Premier League club and receive a weighty redundancy package guaranteeing he’ll never have to worry about paying the rent ever again. That didn’t happen in the 1970s, and Revie – as ever – was thinking ahead of his times.
One of the numerous Ottoman leftovers scooped-up by the British in the wake of that ancient Empire’s post-WWI collapse, what became the United Arab Emirates constituted yet another conveniently oil-rich protectorate en route to India; but in the wake of our withdrawal from Aden in 1967, the Middle East was left to its own devices as far as Brits were concerned, and the federation of Absolute Monarchies that came under the UAE banner was free to capitalise on its natural resources free from European interference as of 1971. In the decades since independence from the UK, the UAE has blended Sharia totalitarianism with a Vegas-style crassness best personified in its premier metropolis, Dubai.
A friend of mine was unfortunate enough to once holiday in Dubai, and her descriptions of the place paint it as a hideous Sun City-style citadel where the population stats of the UAE itself (1.4 million Emirati natives and 7.8 million expats) are writ large, from the way in which the servant class are treated by the ruling class to the way in which western capitalism has created a grotesque Xanadu for visiting bling merchants seeking to show off their wealth. In the twenty-first century, Dubai has supplanted Monte Carlo as the playground of those desperate to advertise the status symbols they imagine will earn them envy and respect back home; those who measure their value as human beings by the size of their watches, cars or houses will find Dubai entirely conducive to their superficial bragging. But whereas Monte Carlo retains its quaint, old-school glamour, Dubai is all the worst parts of London (in terms of appalling architecture and gross wallowing in acquisitiveness) turned up to eleven.
Double standards are abundant in Dubai; the same kind of vulgar excess that a generation raised on ‘Made in Chelsea’ might foolishly imagine to be the epitome of style is combined with the severest form of hardline Islamic law and order to lure those too dim to differentiate between the UAE and Ibiza into a honey-trap of repulsive proportions that anyone with half-a-brain would avoid like the plague. Regular stories of British couples f**king on beaches or individuals off their tits on booze being nicked are a-plenty, and added to this roll-call of shame is the latest casualty of Dubai’s double standards – Jamie Harron, a Scot whose crime was ‘touching a man’s hip in a Dubai bar’.
A 27-year-old electrician whose profession has taken him all the way to the seemingly safer environs of Afghanistan, Mr Harron was on a two-day stopover in the Emirate of Dubai capital when he was accused of touching-up a businessman in a bar; apparently seduced by the tacky attractions of the city, Harron still faces charges of alcohol consumption, but it is the suggestion of homosexual behaviour that has earned him a three-month sentence. He was charged with public indecency, yet even though the man whose hip he allegedly came into contact with (‘to avoid spilling his drink’, claimed Harron) withdrew his complaint, the case proceeded and prosecutors pursued Harron. According to Detained in Dubai, the campaign group that broke the news of the sentencing, ‘key witnesses to the incident were not called upon to testify to discredit the allegations’. Mr Herron’s family didn’t visit him during the trial due to the fact that they themselves risked imprisonment under UAE laws forbidding criticism of the government there.
The revered music journalist Nick Kent once retrospectively wrote of the underage groupies that congregated around Rodney Bingenheimer’s infamous English Disco on Sunset Strip in mid-70s LA, claiming the girls there – including the likes of Sid Vicious’ future death-wish soul-mate Nancy Spungen – might have appealed to ‘the bass-player in the Sweet’, but anyone with taste would have been appalled by their behaviour and absence of self-respect. Often, environment inspires activity, and it would appear Dubai encourages the worst kind of ‘wannabe rich wankers’ (as my Dubai veteran friend described them) to big up their facile achievements, something that makes sympathy for any Brit sentenced under UAE law in short supply.
The distractions of gleaming skyscrapers and illusions of western debauchery that permeate Dubai are a seductive (for some) panacea to the more austere Middle Eastern rules and regulations that keep the Burqa-clad female residents walking several paces behind their male superiors; but as sorry as one might feel for the overseas visitor who falls victim to the realities of the Islamic ethics beneath the glam sham of bling bollocks, I find it personally difficult to shed a tear for anybody who doesn’t modify their approach to a night out in a country that is so clearly operating under false pretences.
© The Editor