DUBAI, UAE – The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA)’s proposal to commission full body scanners at airports across the country to enhance safety and security is not exactly finding favour with UAE nationals and expatriates alike.
A random survey carried out by The Gulf Today has revealed that most Emiratis as well as expatriates do not welcome such a move.
Emiratis oppose it on the ground that “it goes against the Islamic and cultural ethos of the country.” Expatriates argue that it would adversely affect tourism flow to the country, with frequent flyers pointing out that they will be compelled to restrict their visits to the country.
The talk about placement of such scanners had died down during mid-2010 when head of Dubai’s General Department of Airport Security had categorically stated that in order to protect passengers’ privacy, body scanners would not be used to ensure security at Dubai airports.
Dubai had followed several other Arab countries that opposed the use of body scanners as they violated Arab traditions and customs.
However, the issue has become a talk of the town as director-general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi recently announced that the issue is still under consideration.
Talking to the media in Dubai recently, he said that there is a huge debate going on regarding the system, its requirement and the implications.
“We have formed a technical committee to study this and to provide us a solution to go for it,” he added.
Reacting to the news, Laila Mohammed Obaid, an Emirati, said that any such move will contradict Islamic as well as cultural ethos of the country as the machines show the general outline of the naked human body. Hence, the authorities should respect the privacy of individuals and their personal freedom.
“I am against it. No Emirati would like it,” she said.
Recalling the experience of one of her relatives, Laila pointed out that even after commissioning machines, the regular physical pat-down search will continue, thus it will be another burden on the passengers as well as on the security staff.
Hiba Essa Al Ateek, another UAE national, echoed her opinion saying that going by the culture of the Emirates, no one would appreciate such a decision.
“It is an invasion of privacy,” she said.
She suggested that the authorities should study the current security systems implemented at the airports and find out whether there are any loopholes. If yes, then they should plug them first.
“I agree that Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become the hotspot for air travellers, and no place is absolutely safe. Yet, I would say that the officials should come out with some other option to meet the international standards on air safety,” she said.
She added, “They would have to first convince the UAE residents before implementing any such decision.”
Opposing the proposal, another Emirati, Saleh Mohammed, said that such machines should be used only if no other option is left.
It should be used remotely like in cases where the security personnel have doubts about a certain passenger.
“It is certainly a bad practice. But when it comes to chose between bad and worse (terror acts), the lesser evil should be opted, but should be practised carefully,” he added.
Bad for tourism
Many expatriates also expressed displeasure over any move to compel passengers to undergo screening by full body scanners, saying the GCAA should consider security requirements at the airports and the religious, cultural, social and health concerns of the passengers.
“Even if studies show that it is safe to undergo such body scanning, I will refuse to go by it. I do not trust such studies as they are mostly twisted and intended to fool the public,” said Asif Ahmad, a Dubai-resident.
Rizwan Khan, Sharjah-based Indian national who is also a frequent flyer, said that such a move would compel people to restrict the number of foreign visits. “I know about friends in the UAE who have reduced number of visits they used to make to the US and UK. If they are compelled to go through it even at UAE airports, they would resort to restricting their travel within the region as well,” he added.
Mohammed Mannan, a veteran working with the hospitality industry, said that if implemented, it would affect inbound tourism in the country.
“The trends show that majority of visitors to the UAE are from the Asian countries. If they are subjected to such scanning, they would prefer other destinations in the region,” he said.
Khalid Najmi, another Dubai-based professional, questioned the need of it all.
“The GCAA is talking of it now, when the security threat has been decreased world over.”
“We’ve passed the peak of threat. If implemented, it would be like using hammer to kill a fly,” he added.