The ambassador from the United Arab Emirates met with a senior State Department official Tuesday to protest the treatment of an Emirati man wearing traditional garb who was handcuffed on suspicion of being an Islamic State adherent after he tried to check into an Ohio hotel.
“On behalf of the UAE, I conveyed deep dismay and concern to the U.S. Government over the mistreatment of Ahmed Al Menhali, a UAE national,” Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said in a statement after he met with Susan Ziadeh, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs.
This marked the latest diplomatic fallout from the incident last week in Avon, a suburb of Cleveland. The U.S. ambassador to the UAE apologized over the weekend. So did the mayor of Avon, saying officials were weighing whether to file charges in the case against a woman who made an alarmed 911 call.
Menhali, 41, a UAE citizen who was visiting for medical treatment, was dressed ina long white robe, headscarf and black headband when he went to the front desk of a Fairfield Inn and Suites looking for a room. None was available, and the hotel manager recommended other nearby hotels.
According to news accounts, Menhali was in the lobby calling other hotels when a suspicious clerk alerted a relative who called 911. Menhali was speaking on his cellphone in Arabic when police arrived and handcuffed him near the hotel entrance. He later told the broadcaster Al Jazeera that the clerk said he was “pledging my allegiance to ISIS,” a common acronym for the Islamic State.
The UAE then warned its citizens to “refrain from wearing the national dress” in public when visiting the West “to ensure their safety” and urged women to abide by bans on face veils in some European countries.
In his meeting with Ziadeh, Otaiba said the police incident was “totally unwarranted.” He said he had spoken with Avon’s mayor, who also apologized directly to him.
“In the context of the greater violence across the world over the last week, the incident in Avon may seem unimportant in comparison,” Otaiba said. “But tolerance and understanding should never be a victim of bias and bigotry anywhere, particularly between Emiratis and Americans.”
The UAE has sent troops to fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and joined in airstrikes against extremists in Syria.
“In the UAE, we are also strong believers and advocates of religious diversity and tolerance, guided by the true tenets of Islam: respect, inclusion and peace,” Otaiba said. “In this spirit, we welcome hundreds of thousands of Americans to live and work in the UAE. The hundreds of thousands of Emiratis who live in or visit the U.S. each year for business, medical care, education or tourism should also expect to be treated the same, and not singled out because of their beliefs, attire or language.”