The UAE's Minister of Tolerance, Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, has been accused of sexually assaulting a British woman in the run up to the launch of the 2020 Hay Literary Festival. The event was held in Abu-Dhabi this year despite widespread condemnation from a coalition of more than 40 renowned authors over the choice of the Gulf capital to host such a prestigious event.
Caitlin McNamara claims that she was attacked by Al-Nahyan on Valentine's Day, 14 February, this year at a remote private island villa where the 32-year-old thought she would be discussing preparations for the inaugural Hay Festival Abu Dhabi. She chose to waive her anonymity and has been interviewed by Metropolitan Police officers in London. The festival official is waiting to hear whether Britain's Crown Prosecution Service will take up her case.
Details of McNamara's alleged ordeal, were published in detail in the Sunday Times. She claims that Al-Nahyan began "touching" her while the two were in a room at the private island.
"It was creepy," explained McNamara. "He was on the sofa next to me and began touching my arm and feet and I was pulling away, then he got forceful… Suddenly, it clicked why I was there. I felt so naïve." Al-Nahyan has denied the allegations.
"I was alone on this island in a concrete building with this powerful man in a country where every day you heard stories about people disappeared in the desert. Every woman in the world knows that feeling — I need to get out without offending. Having worked in the [Middle East] region for 10 years I know that these aren't people you p**s off. It wasn't like being in London, where I'd just tell him to get lost."
Her "frenzied" ordeal lasted until 12:30 in the morning when McNamara managed to escape.
In a statement on Twitter, Hay Festival Chair Caroline Michel, said: "What happened to our colleague and friend Caitlin McNamara in Abu Dhabi last February was an appalling violation and a hideous abuse of trust and position." The festival said it will sever ties with the Gulf state.
At the launch of this year's festival, more than 40 public figures and organisations signed an open letter denouncing the UAE for "promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions."
The letter pointed to the hypocrisy of the support shown for the festival by the UAE's Ministry of Tolerance "in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices."
In 2019, rights groups also called for a boycott of the UAE-hosted World Tolerance Summit, saying that it was "yet another tool in the UAE's campaign to 'whitewash' its human rights record."