Friday, December 7, 2012

UAE National Day Mob Gropings of Women

Rather disturbing news from this UAE National Day has come to light (apart from the suicide-by-metro in Dubai, that is).

It appears mob sexual assaults were taking place in Abu Dhabi on what is supposed to be a glorious day for the country. According to the head of police in the capital, there were "between five and 12 [mob sexual assault] incidents reported on the day". Now, National Day is generally notorious for the vandalism-heavy revelry - a feature to which we UAE residents have somewhat resigned ourselves. I know I refused to visit my parents in Abu Dhabi until late into the next morning, by which time all that remained of the debauchery of the night before were glittery curbs and foamy cars. If you're on Abu Dhabi's Corniche Road or any other such "parade-prone" strip in a vehicle, you can expect to get silly-stringed and confettified. At least, I thought that was the worst we had to fear on this day.

In the National's article on the most recent spate of such attacks, there are worrying signs that the attacks were organized - if not for specific targets, then for the aggressors' participation and methods, which resemble those in Egypt. In once case, a group of 5 women were swarmed and brutally groped by almost 70 men on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, escaping thanks to their having hung together and fought until they could get the attention and assistance of passers-by.

One puzzling part of the article was the head of police saying that the parties who reported such assaults, most of them "Arab and Asian", then withdrew their complaints "because of the festive spirit". Huh?

This sort of attack happened more than once last year, given that the women in the story said that they "heard some stories from last year". Incidentally, they decided that the appropriate precaution for this year would then be to "be very modest ... [wear] trousers, [cover] up" and not "draw any attention to [them]selves". I suppose internalization of victim-blaming mentality did not help much this year. Perhaps they will have better luck next year with the addition of headscarves. Or not.

A quick web search also revealed an archival article which indicates that this has been happening since as far back as two years ago, when on National Day (again), a group of another 5 women were surrounded by a mob and groped (one of them subjected to an attempted stripping) for almost two minutes, after some in the mob blinded them with silly string (of the story of which the very same head of police was, um, skeptical back then).

I think both expats and nationals will agree, now more than ever, that the atmosphere of lawlessness that is permitted to prevail on this day in the name of the aforementioned "festive spirit" has got to end. This is no longer a matter of just glittery curbs and foamy cars.

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