World

ABU DHABI – Where world leaders and prominent figures are blasting Donald Trump for his temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the US-oil rich ally United Arab Emirates considers the controversial order ‘not Islamophobic’.

“The United States has taken a decision that is within the American sovereign decision,” Abdullah bin Zayed said at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the capital, Abu Dhabi.

“There are attempts to give the impression that this decision is directed against a particular religion, but what proves this talk to be incorrect first is what the US administration itself says … that this decision is not directed at a certain religion.”

Trump signed an executive order Friday barring citizens from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan from entering the country for 90 days and suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days. The order indefinitely bans entry of those fleeing from war-torn Syria.

He separately said he wanted the US to give priority to Syrian Christians fleeing the conflict there – which reveals anti-Muslim sentiments behind this ‘divisive, illegal, insulting and discriminatory ban’.

While many countries have lambasted the ban, Muslim-majority nations not on the blacklist have remained largely silent – except for Pakistan. Even though it’s a Muslim-majority country, Pakistan is not on Trump’s blacklist. But Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denounced the travel ban, saying it won’t affect terrorists. Instead, Nisar said, it will “increase the miseries of victims of terrorism.”

“The worst sufferers of terrorism are Muslims, and they have given the most sacrifices against this scourge,” he said.

Australia, which has implemented hard-line policies against refugees, was one of the few nations to voice support for the ban.

Gulf Arab countries have been largely absent from the condemnation of the ban. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have traditionally been close US allies, and all were left off the travel ban.

The government of Saudi Arabia, a Muslim-majority country that is not among the seven countries named in Trump’s order, has not publicly taken a position but it’s national airline, Saudi Airlines, has issued a statement. The statement, which was issued in Arabic, said citizens from the seven affected countries “will not be permitted to travel with Saudi Airlines. Citizens with diplomatic visas or who work for international organizations and hold valid visas are an exception.”

The airline also said passengers with reservations who weren’t able to travel to the U.S. because of the ban won’t be charged ticket change fees and may be able to receive a full refund.

Of the five Gulf countries, the only one to express mild disapproval in public was Qatar, whose foreign minister was quoted during a visit to Serbia as saying he hoped Washington would reassess the ban.

“When it comes to be addressed in a Muslim framework, I think this is something we will stand against,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani was quoted by Aljazeera as saying.

Some Gulf officials even backed it openly. Dhahi Khalfan, a senior Dubai police official, tweeted on Monday “complete support” for Trump’s ban. “Every country has the right to protect its security … Trump, what you’re doing is right.”

Trump’s order affecting nationals from seven war-torn Muslim nations has sparked protests across the United States and beyond. Four US states have filed legal cases against the travel ban for alleged religious discrimination.

But Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, foreign minister of the UAE – a Muslim country – publicly defends the ban.

He has said that most Muslims and Muslim countries were not included in the ban. The affected countries, he added, faced “challenges” that they needed to address.

Meanwhile, European leaders, the United Nations and international groups have condemned Trump’s measures, as passport holders from Arab countries affected by the ban were blocked from passing through customs at US airports and others were prevented from boarding US-bound planes.

The travel ban has disrupted thousands of people’s lives by dividing families and left travellers stranded. Dozens were detained at airports, including green card holders.

Amid growing protests, legal challenges to Trump’s anti-immigration moves have spread. The US states of Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington have filed legal cases, contending that the order violates the US Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom.

US-UAE relations

The United States has had friendly relations with the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) since 1971, following its formation and independence from the United Kingdom. The two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1972. The U.A.E. plays an influential role in the Middle East, and is a key partner for the United States. The United States and the U.A.E. enjoy strong bilateral cooperation on a full range of issues including defense, non-proliferation, trade, law enforcement, energy policy, and cultural exchange. The two countries work together to promote peace and security, support economic growth, and improve educational opportunities in the region and around the world. U.A.E. ports host more U.S. Navy ships than any port outside the United States.