x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Travel 'harder and riskier for Arabs', says survey

In a YouGov poll of UAE residents, many say they are keenly aware of stereotyping in the West and that the Yemeni parcel bomb attacks have made travelling more difficult for them.

Most UAE residents believe the recent failed Yemeni cargo bomb attacks have made international travel more difficult and dangerous for Arabs, a new survey has found.

The YouGovSiraj survey, conducted for Al Aan TV, found that more than two-thirds (71 per cent) of respondents agreed that the October attacks had made international travel harder for Arabs.

On October 28, after a tip from Saudi security services, two explosive devices were found hidden in printer cartridges that had been sent from Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, to synagogues in Chicago. One was uncovered in Dubai, while the other was found in East Midlands Airport in England.

Security services blamed the Yemen-based group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, for the attacks, saying the PETN plastic explosives found were a weapon of choice for that group.

Almost two-thirds of respondents in the UAE (64 per cent) told the Al Aan researchers that the attacks had made air travel less safe, with two in five (38 per cent) saying they personally felt less safe travelling on passenger aircraft.

According to experts on terrorism, that fear has little foundation. "We have got very, very little risk here," said Malcolm Nance, a UAE-base terrorism consultant. "The packages that were sent to the UK were … not designed to explode here."

People in the UAE, he said, "should feel relatively safe. The risks [from terrorism] out there are miniscule compared to getting in your car and getting on Sheikh Zayed Road".

Scott Booth, the research manager at YouGovSiraj in Dubai, agreed that people in the UAE had little cause for concern.

"These bombs were not intended to take out the aircraft," he said. "The biggest concern is every time there is an attack, it makes it more difficult for Arabs to move internationally."

Mr Booth said the additional security measures at airports since the attacks were "more than annoying". "It's embarrassing and a violation."

The survey found widespread concern (69 per cent) that the attacks had harmed Yemen's international image, and therefore the well-being of ordinary Yemenis, although half the UAE respondents (49 per cent) thought they would encourage Yemen's Arab and western allies to provide it with greater assistance.

"[Yemenis] are already getting a pretty bad reputation. Since [the attacks] the government has been taking more serious steps - so they say," said Mr Booth.

"But yes, it has harmed the image of Yemenis in general. In the Arabian Peninsula region there is plenty of differentiation, but internationally there isn't," he added.

A visa agent at Omeir Travel Agency in Abu Dhabi said she could not recall a time when getting visas had been easy for Yemenis. "Mostly it is harder, some are rejected - it of course depends on the embassy," she said.

"Our image was never good," said Arwa al Iryani, a 24-year-old Yemeni living in Dubai, "and now it's worse. This affected us with visas, and flights to Germany stopped for a couple of days." Flights between Yemen and Germany were suspended immediately after the attacks, but have since resumed.

A substantial number of UAE residents (42 per cent) said poor security had allowed the bombs to get so far undetected, with a significant number (29 per cent) saying the terrorists must have had inside help from Yemeni security controls.

Mr Nance said governments could do - and were doing - a lot to stop attacks. "Counter-terrorism is based on intelligence and proactive intelligence collections, which is the way they broke the Yemen plot."

Airports in the US, Europe, Yemen and elsewhere have stepped up security. Ten new X-ray machines able to detect explosives were installed at the Sana'a International Airport last month.

But people still need to travel, and many Arabs seem resigned to more airport hassles and suspicious stares.

Zahra al Dahmani, a 30-year-old from Dubai, said that happened every time there was an attack. "Everyone blames us - how come it is easy for other people to come into our country, but hard for us to go to theirs? Something needs to be changed," she said.

Thieab al Dossary, a 27-year-old Saudi, said stereotyping was a particular problem in the US. "It isn't just now, it happens every time, but probably more now. In this region we are always named Ahmed and Mohammed, really similar names, and if one bad person has one of these names, they associate everyone else with that.

"We shouldn't be questioned or interrogated just because of our names."

 

osalem@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Sean McLain