Emiratis outraged over US police ‘racism’

Video footage from late last month showed Emirati businessmen Ahmed Al Menhali collapse at the hands of Ohio police

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya English
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An incident late last month that led to an UAE businessman in the United States hospitalized after he was mistakenly taken for an ISIS militant and detained by police has left Emiratis outraged.

Last Wednesday, Ahmed Al Menhali, an Emirati businessman from Abu Dhabi, went to check into the Fairfield Inns and Suites hotel in the small Ohio city of Avon. Soon after, the family of a clerk working in the hotel called police and warned of a “a suspicious man with disposable phones, two of them, in a full head dress.”

Watch: Emirati man gets attacked by police in US for false claims

CCTV footage showed Menhali was talking on his phone in Arabic and standing outside his hotel wearing traditional Emirati garments when around five gun-toting officers arrived, yelling at him to get to the floor. Police bodycam footage shows the 41-year-old being handcuffed, while questioning “what is this? What happened?”

Police then stand him up next to their car and search his pockets. Minutes later, when the police discovered he was innocent and uncuffed him, he collapsed from what he later described as a panic attack on the tarmac outside the hotel.

An ambulance transported Menhali to a hospital after he collapsed, police said. When police spoke to the hotel clerk, they discovered that Menhali had not made any statements related to ISIS, as initially reported.

Emiratis back home took to social media site Twitter to complain of Menhali’s treatment, using the Arabic hashtag #AttackingAnEmiratiGuyInUS.

“I hate how white people are treated so good here in the UAE but Emiratis are abused in the US,” said one user. Another pointed out how the UAE’s policy of tolerance allowed tourists to wear a variety of clothing, but how that policy did not seem to extend to the US. “Americans wear bikinis here,” said the user.

“If you want to learn about tolerance and freedom, learn from Emiratis,” said another user.

Another user called the incident a “violation by the police.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor at UAE University and a frequent commentator on Emirati affairs, told Al Arabiya that he viewed Menhali as a “victim” of growing “racism against Arabs.”

“He was really badly treated... I think it was a pure case of racism against Arabs. Just because he was dressing in Gulf [clothing] doesn’t mean he’s an ISIS [fighter].”

On Sunday, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned its citizens travelling abroad to not wear traditional garments, in the fear of getting harassed or worse.

Then, later in the day state press agency WAM reported that the UAE has summoned the deputy US ambassador over “bad treatment” by Ohio police “towards an Emirati.”

Abdulla said that the incident should not put Emirati tourists off visiting the US, but should “now be wiser not to travel in national dress.”

“This is not the best time for us to go around in our national dress. Racism, and anti-foreign sentiment, and lack of tolerance, runs high, both in the US and in Europe,” he added.

Both the police and Avon’s mayor later apologized directly to Menhali. A face-to-face meeting seen on video shows Avon Police Chief Richard Bosley telling him: “No one from the police department [meant] to disrespect you, that was the not the intent of the actions of our officers.”

Menhali told local daily Gulf News in a phone interview from the US that he accepted the police apology.

A video news report showed Menhali in hospital, displaying a bloodied headdress that the businessmen pointed out was similar to one worn by Jesus.

Menhali expressed his shock at the incident, and was reported by local paper The National as saying that “I assumed that there was some sort of training exercise or event at the hotel but I was shocked to see them barge at me,” he said.

“I always wear my traditional clothes during all my travels and never encountered such a thing,” he added.

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