Tunisia demands formal UAE apology over women ban

Foreign minister says public apology is in order after Emirates Airlines bars Tunisian women from boarding its flights.

Tunisian Foreign Minister khemaies Jhinaoui
Jhinaoui described the spat with the UAE as a technical, not diplomatic, one [File: Reuters]

Tunisia is demanding a public apology from the United Arab Emirates after Emirates Airlines denied boarding to Tunisian women on flights to the Gulf country.

On Friday, the UAE-owned carrier stopped accepting Dubai-bound female passengers from Tunisia. UAE officials later cited security reasons for the move, saying that a “terrorist threat” was behind the decision.

The move caused public outrage in Tunisia, with authorities announcing on Sunday the suspension of all Emirates flights to and from the North African country.

Speaking to a Tunisian radio station on Monday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said that his UAE counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, had called him to offer a personal apology.

When asked by the Shems FM interviewers if a public apology was also necessary, Jhinaoui agreed, saying that such action was in order since the ban was widely perceived as discrimination against Tunisian women.

“I … [told the UAE foreign minister] that the perception is there because the move happened, and so there is no way that we can maintain business as usual,” he said.

“We hoped there would be some sort of discussion, for our advice to be taken into account … but it is a complex situation that shocked us from the very beginning,” he said. 

According to Jhinaoui, Tunisian women with valid residency permits in the UAE, as well as those who hold diplomatic passports, were exempted from the ban.

He added that “the ban now only applies if Tunisian women travellers plan to board Emirates Air flights – they will be allowed to enter the UAE via other airlines, like from Turkey for instance”.

Tunisia’s ban on Emirates Airlines from landing on its territory will remain in effect until the carrier “adheres to international treaties”, said Jhinaoui.

‘Technical crisis’

The foreign minister, however, described the row as not a “diplomatic” but a “technical” one, telling Shems FM that the two countries were “currently in contact”.

Asked about whether there is a deadline to resolve the issue, Jhinaoui responded by saying that both parties wanted to find a solution as soon as possible.

“We hope to move on from the issue within the next few hours or days,” he said, citing the two countries’ “deep-rooted relationship” that has existed for a long time.

“We have a lot of common interests that we would like to safeguard, but we also are safeguarding our women’s dignity,” he said.

On Sunday, Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs said in a Twitter post that the Gulf country “appreciates and respects Tunisian women”, after also citing security as the reason behind the move.

Saida Garrach, the Tunisian president’s spokesperson, also told Shems FM on Monday that the UAE had explained that the decision was made after obtaining “serious security information” about alleged plans for attacks by Tunisian women from “tense hotbeds” in Iraq and Syria.

She said the move by the UAE was “unacceptable” and required a “quick response” from Tunisia.

According to both Garrach and Jhinaoui, the Tunisian ambassador to Abu Dhabi had not been previously warned of the decision.

The decision to bar Tunisian women from boarding the airline’s fights was widely condemned by social media users who lashed out at the UAE over what they described as a discriminatory act.

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Source: Al Jazeera