Dubai Pardons Woman at Center of Rape Dispute


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — With her passport back in hand, a Norwegian woman at the center of a Dubai rape claim dispute said Monday that officials dropped her 16-month sentence for having sex outside marriage in the latest clash between the city's Islamic-based legal codes and its international branding as a Western-friendly haven.
Dubai authorities hope the pardon of the 24-year-old woman will allow them to sidestep another potentially embarrassing blow to the city's heavily promoted image as a forward-looking model of luxury, excess and cross-cultural understanding.
"I am very, very happy," Marte Deborah Dalelv told The Associated Press after she was cleared by the order of Dubai's ruler. "I am overjoyed."
But the case points to wider issues embedded in the rapid rise of Gulf centers such as Dubai and Qatar's capital of Doha, host for the 2022 World Cup. These cities' cosmopolitan ambitions often find themselves at odds with the tug of traditional views on sex and alcohol.
Nowhere in the region are the two sides more in potential conflict than Dubai, where the expatriate workforce outnumbers locals 5-to-1 and millions of tourists arrive each year with high-end fun on their minds.
Most foreign residents and visitors coast through Dubai's tolerant lifestyle. Women in full Islamic coverings shop alongside others in miniskirts, and liquor flows at resorts and restaurants. Yet once authorities determine a legal line has been crossed, it's often difficult and bewildering for the suspects.
Dalelv, in Dubai for a business meeting, said she told police in March that she was raped by a co-worker after a night that included cocktails. She was held in custody for four days and sentenced last week for illicit sex outside marriage and alcohol consumption — which is technically illegal without a proper license, but the rule is rarely enforced.
The alleged attacker, identified as a 33-year-old Sudanese man, was charged with the same offenses and received a 13-month sentence. He also cleared by a pardon, according to Dalelv.
Rape prosecutions are complicated in the United Arab Emirates because — as in some other countries influenced by Islamic law — conviction requires either a confession or the testimony of adult male witnesses.
In a twist that often shocks Western observers, allegations of rape can boomerang into illegal sex charges for the accuser. In 2008, an Australian woman said she was jailed for eight months after claiming she was gang-raped at a UAE hotel.
The fears of sex-outside-marriage charges also lead some single domestic workers in the UAE to abandon their babies or seek back-room abortions.
Other, less serious, cases have also shed light on the tensions in Dubai between cosmopolitan modernity and Muslim legal codes and tribal traditions. In 2009, a British couple was sentenced to one month each in prison after an Emirati woman claimed they engaged in an overly passionate kiss. Motorists have been convicted for a rude gesture in a moment of road rage.
"I have my passport back. I am pardoned," said Dalelv, who worked for an interior design firm in Qatar. "I am free."


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