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  • The Times

The dark side of Dubai

Sneaky selfies, a sleeping Swede and a pair of shattered spectacles. The details of a post-brunch debacle in Dubai are laughably mundane, but they may result in jail for a young British woman who seems to have been an innocent bystander to a booze-fuelled brawl. The expat Asa Hutchinson, who is 21 and originally from Chelmsford in Essex, was arrested last week after an altercation erupted between a group of her male friends and a Swedish man in his fifties who had fallen asleep in a hotel lobby. The male tourists, who have since left Dubai, were taking photos with the slumbering executive after a brunch at Dusty’s bar in the city’s financial district when he awoke and expressed his displeasure. A fight ensued during which his glasses were broken. Although Hutchinson, who has been living and working in Dubai for three years, was not directly involved in the fracas, she faces charges of assault, theft and (bizarrely) fraud, having apparently moved the glasses to a nearby bin. She’s on bail, having surrendered her passport to the police.

It’s the second high-profile case of a Brit coming unstuck in the United Arab Emirates in as many months. In late October a Dubai judge sentenced the Scottish electrician Jamie Harron to three months’ jail for touching a businessman on the hip in a crowded bar. Harron was subsequently pardoned by special order of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum after a social-media outcry. Among the Emirati elite it is acknowledged that these thunderclaps of conspicuous discipline are part of the business of being in Dubai, which involves serving up rivers of booze to godless westerners while pretending not to. The sporadic detainments are a not-very-subtle dog whistle to what is called “the Arab street” — conservative Emiratis who fear their land is going to hell in a handbag which, of course, it is — a Louis Vuitton one, naturally. Harron and Hutchison are collateral damage. Whenever I hear stories such as theirs I have a “there but for the grace of God” moment. Ten years ago I was working as a magazine editor during Dubai’s giddiest and gaudiest period of expansion. Towering five-star hotels and entire road networks would appear seemingly overnight thanks to the 24/7 toil of vast armies of exhausted migrants.

Asa Hutchinson, a British expat facing jail in Dubai