After an eleven-day visit, my friends have finally left. I enjoyed having them here and showing them around. Having visitors forced me to investigate what the UAE has to offer. With five days until I have to go back to work, I am looking forward to relaxing and taking a vacation from my vacation for the next few days.
The only thing on my mind is that I feel lucky that they were able to get out of the country without getting arrested. According to this article, some men were fined for taking photos of the Yas Marina motorsport racing circuit. Despite the fact that the circuit is a major tourist attraction, has been photographed numerous times, and that there are no signs prohibiting photography, the men were given 500 dirham and 1000 dirham fines.
The article also mentions that there were numerous other arrests for illegal photography including people who took pictures and accidentally got a picture of an embassy. One amateur photographer was taking pictures of airplanes taking off and landing and got a control tower in his picture. I understand prohibiting photography for security reasons, but the reactions to these cases seemed pretty severe under the circumstances.
Having just spent the past week and a half with people who have never been to the Middle East but are well traveled otherwise, I saw the country through their eyes. One friend of mine said that he had a hard time imagining how people who don't know someone living locally could navigate the country. With courts convicting people of photographing major tourist attractions and making bold statements about tourists drinking without an alcohol license, the UAE doesn't seem to be doing itself any favors in promoting itself as a viable international tourist destination. Stories like these only confirm negative stereotypes that alarmists have about the Middle East.