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No country for gay men

Emirates: No country for gay men

By Alexander Lowë
27 August, 2014

US officials have just advised that UAE jets carried out a range of strikes across Libya condemned by statement of the US State Department signed by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. UAE, who is believed to have one of the most powerful air forces in the region, carried the attack using Egypt’s bases. Egypt military regime is second closest regional partner of UAE after Iran.
Does UAE still sound like a safe place and reliable democratic partner for the west? Last year US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai were both closed amidst security threats. But at the same time US Department of Home Security approved pre-clearance facilities in Abu Dhabi International Airport. Such pre-clearance facilities so far have been only established in the closest and most connected with the US territories like Canada, and the Caribbean, safest destinations for US citizens with biggest traffic to/from the US.

As the closure of the US Embassy demonstrated, UAE is obviously not one of such safe destinations for Americans and building a major security object there and bringing hundreds more of the US government employees would just likely to put more US citizens in danger. And this would effectively only benefit government owned UAE airlines with no US carriers flying to Abu Dhabi. Passengers of other airlines would not get the same treatment continuing to face increasing wait times at the US points, getting incentive to travel on UAE carriers instead.

Fully owned and supported by the government of Dubai, Etihad and Emirates airlines behave like bullies on the world’s stage. When Emirates were rejected additional slots in Canada, UAE imposed visas on Canadian citizens with fees up to 1,000 dollars, closed off its military base for Canadian troops and lobbied against Canada’s bid for a seat in the UN Security Council.

Emirates have a reputation of discriminating against employment of explicitly gay and middle aged people, setting weight restrictions for female flight attendants and firing them if they get pregnant outside of marriage. On its Skyward Frequent Flier website, family is defined as married couple plus blood relatives only. Etihad appears more generous to its frequent fliers with membership open to polygamous families. But the only way to get your same sex partner into family membership seems to be passing him/her as the ‘household help’.

UAE airlines choose to support all-male sports like soccer but not any efforts to change homophobic attitudes there, sponsoring FIFA at the time anti-gay Qatar scandalously wins bid for the next World cup despite allegations of corruption. At the same time literary festival that Emirates sponsored happen to ban a LGBT themed book that had as a minor character fictitious gay sheikh Rashid.
Sheiks from UAE ruling royal family members seem to be above the law, both inside the country and abroad. In 2008 Sheikh Fallah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, half-brother of the crown prince, has been acquitted by Swiss court for the assault and public whipping with a belt of American citizen in the Geneva hotel who rejecting subsequent advances from the sheikh in the form of bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, lap dance, fondling and kissing. The Sheikh was fined and convicted however on appeal, the conviction was revoked on the grounds that the belt with a metal buckle that was used for beating could not be considered as a weapon for assault.
Sheikh Issa bin Zayed, another brother of the crown prince, asked his American business advisor to film him assaulting a business partner over a debt, for sadistic repetitive future viewing: the torture tape shows the sheikh sexually abusing his victim with an electric cattle prod, slapping him with a wooden plank with protruding nails, setting his genitals on fire and finally running him over with a jeep. This smuggled USA film was shown on ABC in 2009 and led the police investigation in UAE, however the Sheikh was acquitted, but the American was sentenced for five years in absentia for making the recording.

Inside UAE, abuse of human rights and specifically gay rights, is notorious. Abuse of migrant workers, human trafficking, and child abuse of underage boy camel jockeys have been routinely reported around the country. Gay and lesbian citizens and tourists are in imminent and constant risk. The police can raid hotel rooms and private parties to find 'the offenders', they also use the internet to monitor and entrap LGBT citizens. Every year foreign citizens get caught up and sentenced in UAE for 'gay sex', which sometimes is reported only as a kiss, fondling or an embrace. Punishment range from deportation to prison terms while capital punishment could also be potentially enforced.

Middle Eastern Sheikhs were once showing off their pride in stallions, branding them with their insignia. Nowadays they have more expensive toys to play around with, putting their brands onto aircraft and uniforms of their employees, also acquiring and branding hotels, resorts, stadiums, the Melbourne Cup, Team New Zealand and marking uniforms of their clubs’ players. UAE airlines and the UAE government make no concessions to LGBT travellers and their needs but they force their business partners to bend over backwards to please the sheikhs.

New Emirates partner Qantas turned halal on its routes to Europe matching Muslim food policy of UAE carriers. Qantas had also conducted cultural training for all their employees, advising that conflicts with UAE passengers should be handled by a male employee: ''Don't take offence, don't continue to try and sort something out, simply hand it over to a male colleague. It doesn't matter whether you are the manager or supervisor, the fact that he is male will make all the difference.''
But are human rights, gay rights once again becoming collateral damage that Western companies and governments are prepared to have pursuing their economical and political interests? What if anything have we learned from history of supporting other controversial regimes and helping economies of Marcos in the Philippines, Batista in Cuba, The Shah of Iran and once even Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? What happens when ethics are evicted from economics and politics? Back in 1930s Nazi Germany’s economy was booming, gays were already being persecuted, but German airlines were getting access all over the world, and marked with swastika aircrafts were flying all the world. But should we once again let human rights and gay rights be compromised for the sake of geopolitics and profits, complying with questionable regimes and accommodating to their expansion needs?

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