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.