UAE Makes It Illegal To Swear In Text Messages

All things considered I’m a fan of the UAE, and in particular Dubai. Would I want to permanently live in Dubai? No way. But to me there’s something indescribably electric about the city, something which always makes me enjoy going back, and which keeps me intrigued.

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I communicate with my friends in the UAE primarily using WhatsApp, and do occasionally have an ever-so-slightly foul mouth, so I did a bit of a double take when I saw the below story, entitled “UAE pushes for $68,000 fine for swearing in WhatsApp message.” Via arabianbusiness.com:

A recently introduced law in the UAE makes it a criminal offence to swear or use abusive language a text messages.

Anyone convicted of the offence could face a fine of up to $68,000 (AED250,000) and a prison sentence. Expats will also be deported from the UAE under the cybercrime law.

The new law came to light during a Federal Supreme Court hearing after prosecutors successfully secured the retrial of an Arab man who was fined $816 (AED3,000) after he was convicted of swearing at a colleague in a WhatsApp message.

And you better be careful with your emoji use as well:

The same laws apply if a resident sends an ‘emoji’ of the middle finger on a text message in the UAE, it was reported recently.

Although not available just yet, Microsoft has announced plans to include the middle finger gesture icon on its new Windows 10 operating system when it’s launched in late July/August. Experts in the UAE warned that using the offensive ‘emoji’ could lead to a criminal prosecution.

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Hmmm…

I do think it’s important to look at the context from which this arose. A court heard the case of a man who not only swore at his colleague, but also “threatened to harm him.” You would think the latter part would be the bigger deal here, and that’s what he’d be on trial for. But somehow it seems the court is also concerned with the swearing as such.

While I won’t be pushing my luck, something tells me the UAE won’t be filling their courts with people simply using common four letter words in texts/WhatsApp. Though as a traveler it’s something to be aware of, if nothing else.

What’s your read on this story?

Comments

  1. I lived in Dubai for 7 years. They do have laws on the books that in practice are generally not enforced, but they can be used if the authorities feel like it. An example is the middle finger law. People have been convicted, and even jailed, over giving the middle finger to another person. A common occurrence of this is due to road rage.

    It’s their country, so they can pass and enforce the laws that they wish. If you can’t accept that, then don’t visit. We certainly have laws in the US that others may find ridiculous.

  2. @Dan

    That’s a perspective on sovereignty that suggests you don’t believe in human rights or other internationally enforceable norms/beliefs/standards. Not that swearing while texting is likely a human rights issue, but expressing political opinions while texting certainly would be, for example. I don’t see why one would warrant “It’s their country, they can do what they want” and the other wouldn’t.

    Also, I’m assuming you were living in Dubai working for a non-UAE-based corporation? (Yes, I know what happens when I assume, but in the context of Dubai, it’s likely). Multinational corporations and businesspeople seem to love the “it’s their country, they can do what they want” argument when their host nation is violating human rights, but as soon as the country starts nationalizing industries or businesses, suddenly there are international norms that must be enforced, sovereignty be damned!

  3. I agree with you, Chris. I lived in the Middle East for 2 years. I did not wear a burkha, did not cover my head. But I was respectful of their culture and always pulled my hair back, wore “baggy’ clothes. It doesn’t take a lot to just get along. Seriously.

  4. There are lots of ironic things happened in UAE. Especially in LGBT rights, I wonder why there are so many male rape crimes in UAE conducted by local Arabian.

  5. Ignore what Sam said above. He’s not a lawyer and, trust me, he has no idea what he’s even talking about.

    Enough said.

  6. @Sam – I worked for Emirates, so a UAE corporation. I believe in human rights, but I certainly do not believe that there are internationally enforceable standards. Actually, that’s not an opinion. That’s a fact, since there are no standards I’m aware of that are enforced uniformly. As to freedom of speech, it’s a cherished right in the West but most of the world’s people are not so fortunate. I doubt that will change in our lifetimes, no matter how much we may believe in it.

  7. I am slightly biased due to my experience but having just returned from UAE / Dubai and having a run in with the legal system there I will say be very careful what you do and scrutinize your actions closely. You can get into trouble without even trying. I was taking pictures at the Mall of Emirates and was approached by a undercover police man who said someone made a complaint against me for taking picture of them.I was cuffed and brought to a police station where some lady opened a case against me. I had been there for 10 days and had 1000’s of random pictures on my phone so they said they had to investigate it. They took my passport and told me to inquire the next day about my case. That turned into “come back in 5 days” and then again “come back in 5 days”. All without being actually arrested or charged, just accused. It was very, very stressful. The US embassy could not offer any legal help nor could a lawyer because I was not actually charged with anything. On the 11th day I started getting very vocal after they told me I would have a court date appointed in 4 to 6 months. I explained that I was here on a travel visa by myself with no support and was just taking travel pictures and in no way was trying to offend anyone. A couple of kind officers looked into it and got the lady who complained to drop the case. I got my passport back and got on the next plane.

    It is unfortunate because it really stained what was a great vacation and experience in a beautiful country. Not sure If I will ever return though.

  8. No matter how good the hard or soft product is, I don’t do sharia law countries. I’ll fly the long way around the globe before I’ll stop in the UAE.

  9. @Jeff–Wow that’s a very unfortunate incident! I read that it’s best not to take photos of Muslim women without their explicit permission. So when I visited Jordan in Jan and UAE in Feb, I avoided taking photos of them if possible. I prefer taking photos of objects and landscapes anyway.

    Once I was in an European city and there were some young Muslim women near where I was taking photos. They asked me to see my camera and what I took. I was naive and didn’t know that it’s none of their business as I wasn’t in the Middle East and I wasn’t taking photos of them anyway. I should’ve declined showing them my photos. They could’ve been scammers. Nowadays we have TripAdvisor, blogs and wikitravel to research ahead on local customs, dos and don’ts.

    UAE is still a wonderful destination to visit, despite certain laws,the lack of LGBT rights…etc. and what have you. Personally I’ve had great experiences in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, thanks to the predominantly ex-pat workers (cab drivers, hotel staff and a tour bus driver) as two miracles happened to me: 1) I lost my wallet in a cab in Dubai and the cab driver sent it back to my hotel and 2) a tour bus driver lent me his gym pants outside of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because I didn’t know I had to wear pants long enough to cover knees at least as a man. Of course I gave tips to them for the extra efforts and really saving my day.

    Furthermore, the staff at Sheraton Dubai Creek was the nicest, friendlies and most helpful people I ever encountered–I bought a box of chocolate for them and wrote praises to SPG corporate and on TripAdvisor. I’m always thankful for the opportunities to travel and offer compliments and credits when they are due.

    Also, when I sent an email request for free a travel brochure/map from the official UAE tourism website, they sent me a big box of multiple copies of booklets, maps and even a DVD. UAE heavily promotes its tourism and I’d love to go back to see more and enjoy the cerulean shore in Abu Dhabi and the shells-laden white-sand beach in Dubai.

  10. @Ben – I was also aware of this and purposely avoided taking picture of any Muslum clad women as well. The lady who complained was actually a foreigner but the law is still the same if someone complains.

    Much like you I encountered many incredibly wonderful and helpful people while I was there, my hotel staff was very supportive to me while this was going on. I had such a amazing experience up until my detention. The thought of being stuck there for 4-6 months before even being seen in court nearly made me ill on the spot. I really hate to turn anyone off from traveling there but just be careful and as Ben suggested it may be wise to take pictures of landscapes and objects. Read up on the local laws and customs. I just received a travel notification for the UAE from the US embassy that warns about Ramadan holy moth and how you ” can ” be jailed for a month for eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight while the fast is in effect.

  11. It is illegal in the UAE to swear at another person and cause offense via any means, whether verbally, physically, via text message, email, smoke signal or whatever. This isn’t a new regulation or law.

  12. It is illegal (punishable with death) to be gay in the UAE.

    The U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Human Rights Report found that: “Both civil law and Sharia criminalize homosexual activity. Under Sharia[,] the death penalty is the punishment for individuals who engage in consensual homosexual activity.”

    It sounds like an amazing country, but there is no way in hell I would ever risk my safety (or my family’s safety) by going to someplace where simply existing is a crime.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_Arab_Emirates

  13. atleast some people have some morals left. I think I might move there. I have moved to US from India about 15 years ago but still can’t understand how society can promote such depravity in all kinds of ways. All that’s left in the West is hedonism and materialism at any cost. forget Godliness or virtue. I have lived in Dubai as well, great city (has it’s faults for sure such as immigrant labor but overall at least some sense of dignity and reverence left).

  14. @ Chris “It’s their country, so they can pass and enforce the laws that they wish. If you can’t accept that, then don’t visit. We certainly have laws in the US that others may find ridiculous.”

    And yet these people come to the West and expect us to change our laws for them. Frankly I wouldnt bother with the middle east except for their airlines. A part of the world that is stuck in the middle ages.

  15. I wish I had the numbers of some of their ministers etc I will send them a bunch of middle finger emoticons. N lets see what they wanna do about it haha

  16. @jeff if you are not sure if you would ever return there is something wrong with you and you like being abused or something… you should now make it your life’s work to make sure no one ever visits there again at least within your own circle…at the very least.

  17. @james.. I do not know how indians became a bunch of prudes.. they british messed you people up real nice huh.. for a culture that created the kama sutra present day indians sure have mutiple sticks up their arse… how did you people turn that culture and that religion into what it is today I have no idea…

  18. I am gay and my boyfriend is a devout Muslim, from Makkah. (Yeah, yeah, if you can’t handle ambiguity and contradiction you’re in the wrong place hehe). I get credible, first-hand reports of gay life in Saudi Arabia, where there are laws “on the books” that punish homosexual acts by execution in the public square. BUT when was the last execution? Do they round up gay people in Saudi Arabia? I met a Bahraini man in Bangkok who said “all Saudis are gay”, by which he explained that since women and girls are invisible/inaccessible to young men there, adolescent Saudi males nearly all engage in some same-sex activity until marriage. Wouldn’t you, if you had no fumblings at the drive-in, no “dates”, no “TV nights in parents’ basements”? What’s a guy to do? Nobody will leave you alone with a female, but Mom will always let you go out with your “buddies”…

    There are states in the USA which impose criminal penalties for homosexual activity. There always have been. But in the 1980s when a thug in Georgia (“police officer”) actually arrested someone for it, it was a nationwide scandal. I was once told by a US border guard that he could (/should “by the book”) bar me from entering the US purely because I have sex with men “but obviously I’m not gonna do that”.

    It’s easy to cherry-pick “laws on the books” to ridicule or demonize a whole country or region. To be persuasive (to me) you have to cite current enforcement practice. Actual changes to laws often come years after their enforcement has been scrapped.

    The text message thing is devoutness run amok. It’s kinda cute. But it doesn’t mean that a Canadian or Australian who says “fuck” in a WhatsApp message is going to be plucked from the airport and sentenced to lashes.

    I’m an gay middle aged man from Canada and I’d go to UAE in a heartbeat. I’d research how to behave, how their customs differ from those familiar to me and I’d soak it up. And like Lucky, I’d definitely, certainly not want to live there.

  19. @yyz – not sure which United States you’re referring to. For all our (many) faults, especially on LGBT rights, states in the U.S. are barred constitutionally from criminalizing homosexual activities. See Lawrence v Texas.

  20. @James: I’m right there with a lot of what you said. I’m actually quite conservative despite what my comments may seem like. I normally keep my beliefs to myself and don’t cram them down other people’s throats, unlike plenty of other groups out there today.

    Louie Giglio said, “… follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whomever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship.”

    I think you’ll see that what many people in the West worship most is themselves.

    This leads to greed, which is why we’re where we are today on a macro scale from the USA owing China trillions of dollars to the airlines devaluing their FF programs to people who do 6-7 figures worth of manufacturered spending a year and wonder why the banks cancel these programs.

    On the UAE swearing deal – – I think it’s a bit of overkill. Is swearing frowned upon in most world religions? Yes. Even most Americans would object to it in public (ie: trying to have dinner at a nice restaurant and some loud obnoxious arseholes at the next table swearing loudly like it was punctuation.). IIRC a town in Virginia just passed a law this past week making swearing a fineable offence. I think the issue we’re having with the UAE implementation is it affecting private conversation.

  21. @AlexS – ” IIRC a town in Virginia just passed a law this past week making swearing a fineable offence.”

    Many localities in the US have ordinances like that, but they’re rarely enforced, partly because it’s too difficult.

  22. @Peter – none of the laws you linked to criminalize homosexual activities. Not by a longshot trying to defend the U.S. on LGBT issues, but with Windsor decision two years ago and the upcoming decision, we’re making up some ground.

  23. @jamestheyounger….

    When you say…..”All that’s left in the West is hedonism and materialism at any cost” you make me laugh.

    Dubai/UAE is ALL about materialism! And hedonism? They’ve got that more than that than Americans will ever have! Look at their spending habits. And those women forced in Burhka wearing slavery buy designer clothes to wear for one another indoors. Nothing like a $20,000. Chanel outfit to wear indoors to a tea party because the repressive government won’t let you wear it outside. And I don’t need to go there to see it. I know enough women that have been there and would never go back. And I watch them shop here in NY.

    You’re soooo off base. When it comes to materialism and hedonism, Americans looks like amateurs compared to the people of the UAE.

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