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Questions persist after UAE $20 million donation to Las Vegas

Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 1 December 2016 [Egyptian President Office/ApaImages]
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 1 December 2016 [Egyptian President Office/ApaImages]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has donated 200,000 coronavirus testing kits worth an estimated $20 million for a testing site in the American state of Nevada. Governor Steve Sisolak had ordered a mandatory lockdown of all nonessential businesses in March after the spread of the virus and warnings from the public that hospitals and laboratories were running out of supplies.

The UAE donation will enable the state’s largest city, Las Vegas, famed for its casinos, to reopen its economy.

Jim Murren, the former chief executive of MGM, who chairs Nevada’s Relief and Recovery Task Force, said the gift approved by crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, was the result of discussions with G42, an Emirati artificial intelligence company.

“Without the connection with the U.A.E., we might be in a different place,” Murren said.

Although business leaders and public health officials welcomed the gift, they admitted that it underlined the inadequate response of the Trump administration to the crisis.

News of the UAE donation has not surprised some American commentators. The country’s ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, is said to have bankrolled nearly every major think tank in Washington.

READ: UAE foundation suspends activities in Morocco due to tension between both countries

American officials who have worked with Otaiba described him as the person whom Mohammed bin Zayed trusts most on foreign issues. His lavish spending on parties, which includes a 2007 weekend bash in the MGM Skylofts Las Vegas Penthouse are said to be legendary.

Despite the projection of their humanitarian activities, some UAE diplomats have also gained notoriety for various forms of exploitation.

In November 2014, the country’s ambassador to Ireland was ordered to pay three Filipina workers a total of €240,000 for breaching their employment rights. Ambassador Khalid Nasser Rashed Lootah and his wife Mehra Metad Alghubaisi had paid the women less than €2 per hour to perform housework and other tasks for 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry of which the UAE is a center of gravity. In November 2019, a documentary film shown at an international conference hosted by the Italian University of Florence exposed the UAE as a country of prostitution and human trafficking. Shortly after, in March 2020, fifty-two members of the British Parliament signed a petition condemning human trafficking in the UAE.

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