Dubai's ruler pardons himself

"I'm very, very happy. This is the perfect ending," Marte Dalelv told reporters yesterday after learning that she had been pardoned by the ruler of Dubai.

The 24-year-old Norwegian woman had been convicted of having extramarital sex and sentenced to 16 months in jail after complaining to Dubai police that she had been raped.

But while Ms Dalelv and those who campaigned on her behalf through social media have good reason to celebrate her release, it is far from a "perfect ending".

Officially, Ms Dalelv remains guilty as charged – she has merely been "forgiven" by the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Royal pardons are an integral part of Dubai's system of arbitrary government and arbitrary justice and the Norwegian foreign minister really ought to have known better than to tell AFP: "I'm ... thankful to the emir, who has it within his power to give such a pardon."

That is exactly what Sheikh Mohammed wants. He expects people to doff their caps and express gratitude rather than blame him for the flaws in his own system.

In effect, Dubai's ruler has pardoned himself, and his system. There is no need to change anything. Women who dare to complain about being raped will continue being sent to jail, with the possibility of "forgiveness" in some cases (mostly involving westerners) where adverse publicity threatens to damage Dubai's image or its international relations.

Western governments are complicit in this too. Where rich Gulf autocrats are concerned they bend over backwards to avoid upsetting them. It's doubtful whether Ms Dalelv would have been released so quickly if the Norwegian government had been left to its own devices without pressure from Facebook groups and an online petition that collected 72,000 signatures.

In 2008, the Australian government was notably unhelpful when Alicia Gali, from Brisbane, was imprisoned for having extramarital sex after complaining she had been raped by co-workers at a hotel in the neighbouring emirate of Fujairah. 

Australian embassy staff advised her and her family not to make a fuss through the media while she remained in custody – with the result that Ms Gali served eight months in jail before eventually being pardoned.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 23 July 2013