A Swedish woman ended up in United Arab Emirates custody after she consumed a glass of wine on her flight from London to Dubai, the Guardian reports, citing legal group Detained in Dubai.
Ellie Holman, who lives in Kent, U.K., was held in a cell, with four-year-old daughter, without water or a toilet for three days after stepping off her Emirates flight. Her daughter was left to defecate on the floor, per The Guardian, and the family wasn’t told that Holman’s husband had arrived looking for them.
The dentist got in a tiff with immigrations officials when asked to purchase an additional visa. She told reporters that she was then asked whether she had consumed alcohol, and placed under arrest.
Holman has since returned to the U.K. after spending a month under house arrest, and told the Daily Mail she has been subject to death threats. UAE’s national media later published accounts of the incident that claimed Holman was attempting to distribute botox in the country, citing social media posts she made about her Dubai trip. However, Holman operates a dental practice in the United Kingdom.
Drinking alcohol is widely illegal in Dubai, with the exception of licensed clubs, hotels and Emirates Airline. Only those with a special license can buy alcohol in a store (tourists cannot). Being under the influence of alcohol after leaving one of those venues is strictly illegal, and prosecution is selective, according to an analysis by The Mirror.
For those who have developed a sense of the United Arab Emirates vis-a-vis first class reviews and hotel documentaries, this encounter may seem outlandish. It is far from unusual, however, and should serve as a stark reminder that the UAE, Dubai and surrounds are anything but a gleaming reincarnation of Manhattan.
Holman has said she attempted to film a confrontation with immigration officials. She is hardly without company, however.
Last year a British tourist was sentenced to three years in prison during a Dubai visit. His offense, grazing another man’s hip while carrying a drink at a bar, was described by state prosecutors as pubic indecency.
That man, Jamie Herron, was released only after Sheikh Mohammad intervened. Perhaps the situation didn’t comport with his administration (and airline’s) pricy influencer marketing campaigns.
The United Arab Emirates and neighboring gulf states project a worldwide image, partly through luxurious state-funded airlines, of modernity and cross-cultural competence. In practice, these states enact much of the same strictly repressive social legislation as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The most commented-upon article on this website features stories of Qatar Airways employees. Mostly flight attendants, these women were guarded in hotel rooms by airline minders throughout the night, required permission from the airline to marry, and weren’t allowed to have casual sex.
That article was published in response to an investigation by a Swedish newspaper. It has since been corroborated by dozens of former Qatar Airways employees who have responded.
These incidents serve as reminders that, despite growing trade and an alluring air travel business, Gulf States remain on the far side of a cultural chasm with the west.