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A leading Emirati lawyer has called for an overhaul of Dubai’s alcohol laws, saying tourists were unwittingly breaking the law while on holidays and they should be able to get an alcohol licence along with their visa on arrival.
Yousef Al Baher told Arabian Business that the current system was confusing.
Under local law, alcohol consumption is only permitted in designated areas such as bars attached to hotels.
Tourists and residents can drink in these locations without holding a licence to buy alcohol. However, once outside the permitted area they can be arrested if brought to the attention of police if they are found to be drunk and disorderly in a public area or drink-driving.
Al Baher said residents were made aware of the need to obtain an alcohol licence, but tourists may not realise they also technically needed one.
However, he said given the application process involved – with applicants required to prove they are non-Muslim, aged 21 or older and earning more than AED3,000 ($817) per month – it was impossible for tourists to obtain a licence.
“Why don’t we give them temporary [alcohol] cards for all visitors,” he said.
Al Baher said the government could charge a small fee for the licence, which could be provided on arrival at Dubai airport.
Providing an alcohol licence would also enable tourists to purchase alcohol at MMI shops, he said.
Al Baher said the UAE was a tolerant society and recognised that in other religions alcohol was permitted.
“Tourists, when they are coming here… [it’s] only through hotels [they are allowed] to have alcohol,” he said.
“Why they don’t give them permission? It is allowed on their religion. As an Islamic country in Dubai, we respect all religions. Why not give them permission to buy alcohol?”
Al Baher said the idea had come up among lawyers who had dealt with a lot of cases involving illegal drinking and it had been shared with people higher up.
He said he had experienced cases where tourists were involved in brawls while under the influence of alcohol and arrested by police.
“The procedure in Dubai takes six to eight months,” he said of the court system. “They come to Dubai with €2,000, what are they going to do?
He said in other cases, tourists knew the rules but ignored them. “You cannot drive a car with alcohol in Europe, but here they are driving cars, they don’t care,” he said.
Al Baher said it was up to the government how it wanted to handle the issue, but he believed it needed to do something.
“We need the law to become more flexible and quicker.”