Tomorrow, Emirates will attempt to break a world record by flying a specially liveried Airbus A380 across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) filled to the brim with as many nationalities as possible. The idea came about from the UAE’s ‘Year of Tolerance’ activities which the country’s official news agency says was “envisioned as a way of life by the UAE’s founding fathers”.
Proving just how multi-cultural the airline and it’s home country is, Emirates points to the fact that people representing more than 200 nationalities choose to live in the UAE. Over 160 nationalities alone work for Emirates.
Emirates flight EK2019 “will bring together the diverse, multi-cultural communities of the UAE” onboard the Year of Tolerance A380 – Adorned with a panorama of people from “diverse backgrounds and cultures holding hands in solidarity, celebrating the UAE’s message of multiculturalism”.
It’s certainly set to be a stunning display and a fantastic day out for the hundreds of people who applied to be onboard this very special flight. But are the colourful illustrations masking the reality that the UAE isn’t quite as torlerant as they would have you believe?
That’s certainly the concern of many non-governmental organisations including the highly respected Amnesty International.
“It will take more than Hollywood stars and huge PR campaigns to gloss over the UAE’s appalling human rights record,” explains a spokesperson for the prominent human rights group.
“The UAE authorities branded 2019 as the ‘year of tolerance’. However they have far from reversed their policy of systematic repression of any form of dissent or criticism,” the spokesperson continued.
Since 2011, Amnesty claims the authorities have systematically cracked down on critics, including academics, students, lawyers and even judges. There have been reports of arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture.
“… beaneath the glitz, the gloss and the glamour of the facade that the UAE‘s rulers present to the outside world there is a much uglier reality, where activists who dare to challenge the authorities or speak out in favour of greater democracy and government accountability are thrown into jail,” warns Amnesty.
One peaceful dessenter, Emirati citizen Ahmend Mansoor, has been imprisoned mostly incommunicado since 2017. Critics of the UAE say Mansoor was wrongly convicted after an unfair trial where the the authorities weren’t even able to say what crime he had been charged with.
As recently as May, one Lebanese national who was accused of supporting Hezbollah claimed he had been tortured by having part of his scalp cut off, his toenails ripped out and being anally raped with a metal rod.
And it’s not just Amnesty International that has raised shocking allegations against the UAE and it’s unique form of tolerance. New York-based Human Rights Watch has received many similar reports and is actively campaigning to free human rights activists held in the country.
Meanwhile, British charity Detained in Dubai has long supported foreign expats who have been caught up in the UAE’s often opaque legal system.
Recent cases include an horrific incident in which a 25-year old Norwegian woman was raped while on a business trip in the country. Instead of being protected by the authorities, she was instead charged with having sex outside of marriage.
A young French man was gang raped but then charged with homosexuality.
Speaking of LGBT rights, Detained in Dubai concedes theres a burgeoning underground gay scene but homosexuality remains illegal and anyone caught having a homosexual relationship could face being thrown in prison. LGBT websites are outlawed in the country and foreign sites blocked.
Radha Stirling, Director of the legal charity has raised increasing alarm about the UAE’s tough cybercrime laws. An American expat was recently arrested and charged with insulting her employer on social media – despite the fact the evidence showed she had never made an insult.
Meanwhile, Amnesty claims gender inequality is “embedded in UAE law”.
The right of a wife to leave the home to work remains conditional and men are legally allowed to “discipline” their wives. Muslim women are forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men.
And of course, there’s the widely reported case of Sheikha Latifa Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the daughter of the Ruler of Dubai.
Sheikha Latifa attempted to flee the UAE by boat with the intention of claiming political asylum. But it’s claimed her boat was raided and Latifa extradited back to Dubai where she has remained unseen save for one staged photo opportunity last year.
In London, the estranged wife of the Ruler of Dubai, Princess Haya has applied for a forced marriage protection order in the High Court. Reporting on the case, however, has since been banned by the court.
Emirates maintains that as a global airline it brings people together and “enables cultural exchange and understanding through travel, mobility and its long-standing support of sports and the arts.”
On any given flight, Emirates even says it carries an average of 50 different nationalities from all walks of life.
The problem, though, is that when you start carrying political messages on your aircraft, you should probably expect some kind of scrutiny. The UAE has come a long way but there are most definitely a number of serious concerns that NGO’s say need urgently addressing.