Monday, 9 November 2009


"The Emirates prides itself on being a country, which advocates freedom of expression and speech, and that is exactly what Dr. Lamees displayed."

On Saturday night, and as per its daily schedule, the Oprah Winfrey Show aired on the locally broadcast television channel MBC4. This episode in particular was enthusiastically awaited by the UAE nationals since it was to feature our beloved city Dubai. Dubai was presented as one of the happiest cities in the world along with the likes of Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul.

Copenhagen was visited by the Queen of talk shows herself where she met two ladies at their homes highlighting the differences in their minimalistic, yet happy lifestyles as opposed to the United States in true Oprah fashion.

Next in line was our pride and joy, Dubai. After a brief, and what seemed to me a pretty weak introduction when compared to the feats that Dubai has achieved, Oprah connected via webcam with a Dubai national and a general practitioner Dr. Lamees Hamdan. Dr. Lamees came across as well-versed and confident, speaking freely about her life, family and her home, Dubai.

Dr. Lamees invited Oprah’s cameras into her home and candidly introduced her family to the world. She seemed very proud of her heritage and closeness to her extended family. Oprah then proceeded to ask her questions, while Dr. Lamees spoke of free healthcare in the UAE and pointed out that ironically it is the United States which is facing challenges. She added that no taxes are paid in the UAE, which understandably thrilled Oprah.

Oprah then asked the doctor about her outfit. Dr. Lamees explained that she was wearing a Jalabiya, a traditional dress, and that she chooses not to wear the Sheila, the national headdress and Abaya, while her sisters choose to do so. She explained that the Sheila and Abaya are an extension of the UAE culture yet it is left as a choice for women to sport them or not.

All in all a smooth and candid interview. Yet no sooner had the show ended than our mobile phones began receiving a barrage of messages attacking Dr. Lamees Hamdan claiming that she had misrepresented both, Dubai and Islam. They are, of course, referring to the comment made about the Abaya.

I frankly do not think that Dr. Lamees misrepresented Dubai in any way by stating that the Abaya is a cultural aspect and a ‘national dress,’ one that the UAE women have a choice with. The Emirates prides itself on being a country, which advocates freedom of expression and speech, and that is exactly what Dr. Lamees displayed. I also think that the misrepresentation of Islam accusation is highly dramatised since she did not speak of the Hijab, which is the Islamic headdress for women. All throughout the Islamic world women are seen wearing the Hijab yet the Abaya is reserved mostly for people of the Gulf region, and particularly the UAE.

What strikes me as unreasonable is the fact that people thoughtlessly let loose a barrage of criticisim, instead of understanding that Dr. Lamees spoke of her own life and did not generalize her representation. We as nationals in general, and as local women in particular, should do away with the sharpened pitchforks and appreciate that overall Dr. Lamees carried herself well with her representation of the educated working mothers of the UAE.

Therefore, after reading the many unnecessarily misleading messages that seemed to have spurred from no more than shallow jealousy. Do permit me to call upon the people of the UAE to be as understanding and accepting as the country that we represent. Instead of attacking one of our own, we should take example and draw heart from our liberal governments who have always been there to support us and help us forward.

This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on November 9, 2009.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. No way is she qualified to talk about Dubai like this. Abaya is an islamic beleif and she should point that out rather than lie to millions of viewers. I beleive that she did that so she doesnt get embaraced of not being too relegious.

  3. Dr. Lamees did a great job to represent the new Dubai, the new UAE, and the new Middle East. God bless her for standing up for womens rights.

    The only people that would attacke her are people from the dark ages who can not stay with the times and prefer to go back and live in caves. Sorry those days are gone in the Middle East so all you men can stop fearing the brave women who stand their ground.

  4. Man, she totally sound obnoxious, I am not sure how you can defend her. I can point out dozens of things which she said was wrong.

  5. I believe Dr. Lamees was a great representative to the NEW DUBAI on and international show. Hijab is religious but abaya is not and she was talking about herself. It is true what she said when she said we choose to wear it or not, because if you see the girls out there those who wear it here when outside the UAE they dont and the majority is that way. So stop criticizing her and accept the fact that many of our girls wear it from the cultural and fashion point of view and not to cover up.

  6. I think people are missing the point. It's the Oprah show not the BBC. She just wants to show other well off to wealthy people in America what other wealthy people around the world do. Dr Lamees is wealthy, what else do you expect her to talk about ?

    If anything attack Oprah, she knows what issues to raise if she wants to talk about Islam, human rights or health care. Oprah and her staff would dictate what Dr Lamees shares about Dubai, they chose the feel good angle.

    I don't really care much for Dr Lamees or her brady bunch lifestyle, I do however care for honest un-sugar coated journalism. Much of which is still hard to find in the UAE. Lets be real, if honesty in local media was encouraged then we'd all be talking about the inequalities in Dubai society more openly rather than what one insignificant housewife has to say to Oprah, and I could write this and sign my name un-anonymously.

  7. oh my goodness!?!?!? you guys are seriously attacking this women over a hijab and the abaya??? WOW!!!!! cant anyone express themselves anymore no matter what religion, ethnicity background s/he may be? just leave her alone! she didnt mis-represent anyone. This is her life, all of her opinions its about herself and her family... not towards islam or to any other sorts. geeeezzz.... and no wonder there still political war going on in this world specially religious war.... just small comment or opinion can be greatly exaggerated! LEARN TO RESPECT OTHER PEOPLS VIEWS, COMMENTS AND OPINIONS!

  8. I just read your article and I must say its insightful yet subjective.
    There is a part where you write "All throughout the Islamic world, women are seen wearing the Hijab yet the Abaya is reserved mostly for people of the Gulf region, and particularly the UAE"
    I am an expat living in UAE and where I come from (Kenya) women wear the Abaya as a sign of respect because that is the Hijab so trust me, it is not reserved for the Gulf region only.
    I don't understand this need to differentiate between the Abaya and Sheila, and whether one is allowed and the other is not. That is not the point. The point here is that Dr. Lamees sent out a clear message that covering her head is optional and not mandatory. The reason being since she doesn't cover her head and she wanted to justify that to the world that it is OK. Well it is not OK Islamically. Therefore one, she should have clarified whether she was a muslim or not because obviously it is not mandatory for non-muslims in UAE to wear hijab and two, she should have stated the obvious, and that is Islam requires muslim women to wear hijab but she doesnt. So we all can deduce that she is not following the Islamic principles.
    It is better to be candid then play around with words.

  9. Very well written and explained. Your 100% right the abaya and sheila is traditional. many ladies who wear it are not "muhajabat" they do it purely for cultural reasons and that should be clarified.

  10. You're joking about the free speech thing, right?
    Our internet is censored and any of us could go to prison for using foul language!
    If anyone wishes to make a film here, he or she must submit the script in its entirety to the authorities so they can review it and make sure they like every single word; and the final product is not permitted to deviate from this at all (in other words, don't improvise, lest you say something naughty!)
    There is no free speech here. You are a journalist--please choose your words more carefully.


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