In a bit of strange news on this Christmas morning, the government of Tunisia has forced Emirates to suspend flights to/from Tunisia, effective today. This was first announced on December 24th, after a dispute that started on December 22nd over Tunisian women booked on EK flights being involuntarily denied boarding.
The drama began Friday, with the United Arab Emirates sending the following message to various carriers:
Citing unspecified security concerns, the United Arab Emirates on Friday barred all females holding a Tunisian passport, whether connecting or terminating in the country, from flying to the United Arab Emirates. Local media state that even several days before Friday, some Tunisian females were denied boarding. Reports from Tunis-Carthage airport in Tunisia described scenes of chaos and confusion, as unknowing female travelers were turned away at check-in and families traveling together learned that their female relatives would be unable to fly. The Tunisian government promptly summoned the UAE’s Tunisian ambassador, and while the ban was lifted late the same day on Friday, the unsurprisingly strong reaction to the incident is still ongoing.
Social activists and regular citizens alike have taken to social media to criticize Emirates and the UAE for both the ban itself and the poor handling of the incident. Tunisia’s Ministry of Transport later stated that these actions were “illegal…and contradictory to the regulations in force in international civil aviation.” Then on Sunday, the Tunisian Ministry of Transport announced that it would “suspend flights of Emirates Airlines to and from Tunisia until the company can find a suitable solution to operate its flights in accordance with international laws and treaties.”
Notably, this seems to be the first time an entire gender has been prevented from entering a country due to security concerns. While we have of late seen citizens from various countries and ethnic groups being targeted and prevented from traveling in the name of “security”, singling out all females, regardless of age, is unprecedented. I’m curious what “intelligence” the Emiratis had that led to the ban, but of course we’ll likely never find out.
Emirates flies to Tunis, Tunisia once daily from Dubai, alternating between a Boeing 777-300ER and a Boeing 777-200LR, and this service has been suspended until further notice. Etihad and Flydubai do not operate any flights to Tunisia. More information can be found at Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the Khaleej Times.