This whole situation is just very strange. This past Friday the UAE issued a temporary travel restriction banning all Tunisian female nationals from traveling to or transferring through the UAE. So Tunisian females couldn’t even book a flight on Emirates connecting through Dubai to somewhere else. As far as I know this is a first time a country has banned a gender from entering a country. This policy was added for security reasons, though no further explanation was provided by the UAE as to the specifics of why this was necessary.
The UAE’s minister of foreign affairs said on Twitter that “we have contacted our Tunisian brothers about security information that necessitated taking specific and circumstantial measures,” and said that the UAE “appreciates and respects Tunisian women,” and that “we should avoid attempts at interpretation and errors”.
Apparently not happy with the answer, on Sunday the Tunisian transport ministry has decided to suspend all Emirates flights to Tunisia “until the company can find a suitable solution to operate its flights in accordance with international laws and treaties,” per Al Jazeera. As it stands, Emirates is the only UAE-based airline operating flights between the UAE and Tunisia, so their daily 777 flights aren’t operating at the moment.
This is a very strange situation. What’s especially weird is that typically men are considered to be more likely to pose “security concerns,” at least if history is any indicator, so specifically singling out female travelers is unprecedented. However, Gulf News has a possible explanation for what happened, per the Tunisian presidential spokeswoman:
“We have summoned the UAE ambassador and we tried to get an explanation why those women were not permitted to travel on Emirates airlines to Dubai,” she said, noting that the decision was “a UAE sovereign decision based on credible security information.”
She said security agencies in some countries have warned recently that a number of Tunisian women or women who carry Tunisian passports have returned from Syria and Iraq where they had fought with Daesh.
“These women pose security threats accruing to those agencies,” she added, without confirming if that was the reason behind the UAE decision.
One interesting side effect of these Emirates suspensions is that Tunis has some of the most attractive premium cabin fares of any airport in the world, so it’s a great place to start an Emirates first or business class ticket. With Emirates no longer flying to Tunis and Qatar Airways no longer flying to Cairo, the cheap premium cabin fare pickings are getting slimmer. Now let’s just hope that Sri Lanka doesn’t start kicking airlines out of Colombo. 😉 Of course this isn’t actually significant in the grand scheme of things — much more important is the policy itself, and what this means for travelers.
I’m curious to see how this unfolds. You’d think they’d resolve this pretty swiftly, but if history is any indicator in the region lately, a lot of these things seem to linger for a bit.