As safe as it is for all the rest of us.
Mugged, pick-pocketed, kidnapped for ransom…
Alright, you U.S. readers probably think that’s unduly flippant and would like a little more reassurance than that. Safe from what? Mugging? Pickpocketing? Housebreaking? Petty hotel-room theft? Random acts of terrorism?
Let me reassure you right from the get-go that the chance of your falling victim to all or any of the above is negligible – and that’s based on sixteen years of residence in the United Arab Emirates, during which time I’ve suffered not one of the above listed misfortunes, nor had any expectation that I would.
I do know people who have been robbed, but very few and usually by people they have let into their houses such as cleaners. It is often more a matter of putting temptation in front of very poor people than evil being visited upon you.
There is one threat to our personal safety that I haven’t mentioned, and it’s a pretty major one, but more on that in the second half of this article.
We’re all very aware that the Middle East is a more dangerous and potentially violent place now than it was in 1999, when I took up residency here. Media reporting of civil strife, car-bombings, kidnappings, random attacks on western foreigners, and horrific televised “executions” all help to create the impression that we should stay as far away from the Middle East as possible.
In truth, there are places I wouldn’t go near now: I’m not some kind of crazy twister chaser, desperate to get as close to the vortex as possible. I wouldn’t go to Beirut or Baghdad, Kabul or Tripoli.
Sadly, I would have liked to go to Syria, and until the present conflict erupted, it had the reputation of being a welcoming and friendly place, quite like Jordan, which I visited and loved. Now, I’d have to think twice about Egypt or a return visit to Jordan; Tunisia and Yemen are right out of the question.
What about Dubai?
But what about the countries of the Arabian Gulf, most particularly Dubai in the UAE? Well, there has been a small share of the troubles experienced by GCC countries. Qatar, in 2006, had a suicide-bombing, which killed a single English expat (along with the bomber).
Bahrain has had sectarian troubles simmering, with riot police out on the streets since late 2005 – but there have been no attacks specifically targeting westerners. I was caught up in one of these riots because of proximity and suffered a little teargas misery, but I was never in danger. Anyone could get caught between the battle-lines if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kuwait had a terrorist bombing of a mosque earlier this year, but the 25 victims were fellow Muslims, not westerners. The UAE has only had a single case of terrorist-related violence – the fatal stabbing of a western woman in 2014 in an Abu Dhabi mall toilet.
In this case, the perpetrator was another female who had been, it seems, radicalized by internet websites, but may also have had mental issues. You can read more about the whole sad business here.
So then, is Dubai safe from terror attacks specifically targeting Americans or other westerners? Undoubtedly, yes. Dubai has an efficient police and military intelligence network. There’s always a risk wherever you are, but in this case, the risk is very small.
So, how about all those other threats to our safety I listed above? They are equally unlikely to pose any serious threat to you. Why? Quite simply, because the consequences for any expatriate residents in the UAE caught breaking the law are too severe to make it worthwhile.
Let’s not forget that over 80% of the people in the UAE fall into that “resident expatriate” category. Jail, followed by deportation on completion of sentence is pretty much guaranteed, and since most of the 80% are here for legitimate economic betterment, the risks of messing all that up make for a powerful deterrent.
But don’t just take my word for it:
…And finally, from the U.S. Department of State itself: “The crime rate in Dubai is considerably lower than in most cities…..of similar size”.
The most serious threat to your safety – American and non-American alike!
Now, to be honest, this is unlikely to pose much of a threat to the average Dubai tourist here for 3-5 days – who takes taxis or the wonderful Dubai Metro, or the Big Bus Company’s hop on-hop off double-deckers to see the sights of the city.
But what if you decide to rent a car (GPS-equipped, of course) and decide to do it yourself? A trip at almost any time of the day from say, the Bur Dubai area of town to the Mall of the Emirates, or the Dubai Palm or Dubai Marina will involve a run up or down Sheikh Zayed Road, which has between 7 and 8 lanes in either direction.
If it’s rush hour, then drivers are likely to take stupid risks in their frantic desire to get home, which may be as far away as the Emirates of Sharjah, or Ras Al Khaimah. If it’s a quieter time of the day, when the traffic is flowing smoothly at close to the legal speed limit of 100kph, the Playstation and Nintendo driving school-trained lads with the big Land Cruisers and Patrols may just decide to use the space as their own personal race-tracks.
I’m hardened to it. I’ve got a pretty highly tuned sixth-sense for when trouble is likely to happen and where it will come from. I’ve dodged numerous highway bullets over the last sixteen years, but I can still remember the white-knuckle days of my daily commute between Sharjah and Dubai. And I’m still very much aware that my luck could run out the very next time I travel the 311 or 611 highways between Dubai and the other northern Emirates.
The biggest threat to your lives and limbs isn’t a spray of bullets from an AK47, or an Improvised Explosive Device packed into an old pick-up, but a brand new Lexus or GMC Yukon, being driven anywhere between twenty and sixty kph faster than the speed limit, with a family inside, none of whom are wearing seat-belts – and all that with the driver talking on his mobile.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “You have more chance of being struck by lightning than being taken by a shark while swimming in the sea.”
Yet some people do get eaten by sharks. Just remember, it’s highly, statistically unlikely to be you.