Among the relatively liberal Islamic emirates of the UAE, Sharjah is infamous for its hardline stance on matters of dress, alcohol and the relationship between the sexes. These derive from the close financial ties linking Sharjah with Saudi Arabia. In 1989, a Saudi consortium provided a financial rescue package after the emirate’s banking system collapsed with debts of over US$500 million. Saudi advisers subsequently succeeded in persuading Sharjah’s ruler to introduce a version of sharia-style law, and Saudi influence remains strong to this day. Many locals bemoan the stultifying effect these laws have had on the emirate‘s development – particularly painful given that, up until the 1950s, Sharjah was one of the most developed and cosmopolitan cities in the lower Gulf. Alcohol is banned, making it the only dry emirate in the UAE; the wearing of tight or revealing clothing in public areas is likely to get you into trouble with locals or the police; couples “not in a legally acceptable relationship” are, according to the emirate’s “decency laws”, not even meant to be alone in public together (in 2010 police even started going door to door in an attempt to round up cohabiting unmarried couples). Punishments for more serious offences include imprisonment and flogging, and there have been repeated reports of Asian and Arab expat workers being arrested by the city’s hardline police and being carted off into detention. Nor have Western expats been immune from grotesque miscarriages of justice, such as twenty-year-old British aviation student, Ahmad Zeidan, who in 2013 was arrested in Sharjah for alleged drug offences, beaten, stripped naked, kept hooded in solitary confinement, threatened with sexual violence, forced into signing a confession in Arabic (a language he did not understand) and sentenced to nine years in prison, where he languishes to this day.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Dubai features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

It’s big, brash and lays claim to so many world records it might even have the world record for the number of world records. But beyond the superlatives, skys…

22 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

12 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East

The Middle East is a paradox. Located at the cultural crossroads between east and west, the region nowadays tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, b…

16 Nov 2016 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
A day-by-day itinerary for a perfect weekend in Dubai

A day-by-day itinerary for a perfect weekend in Dubai

Dubai is a city like no other. One of the world’s fastest-growing metropolises, it has been transformed from a small Gulf trading centre into a glamorous…

15 Sep 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month