UK festival not returning to Abu Dhabi over sexual assault claims

Britain’s Hay Festival will not return to Abu Dhabi until the United Arab Emirates’ tolerance minister will remain in his post following allegations of sexual assault by one of the literary event’s curators.

Hay Festival chief Caroline Michel released a statement on Sunday after Caitlin McNamara alleged she was attacked in February by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, 69, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, the Sunday Times reported.

The Times said McNamara, 32, who had travelled to the UAE to work on the launch of the literary festival there, claimed she was assaulted by the sheikh when they met at a remote island villa on Valentine’s day.

British lawyers for Sheikh Nahyan denied McNamara’s account, saying he was “surprised and saddened by this allegation.”

Michel stressed that her colleagues are committed to supporting McNamara in seeking legal action and said the festival will not return to Abu Dhabi while the sheikh remains in his post.

“What happened to our friend and colleague Caitlin McNamara in Abu Dhabi last February was an appalling violation and a hideous abuse of trust and position,” Michel said in a statement.

“Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan made a mockery of his ministerial responsibilities and tragically undermined his government’s attempt to work with the Hay Festival to promote free speech and female empowerment,” she said, adding that the festival “will not be returning to Abu Dhabi while he remains in position.

The Foreign Ministry of the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula that is also home to Dubai, said it does not comment on personal matters.

When asked about the case, the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that a woman contacted the force on July 3 to report an allegation of rape, and said an initial statement has been taken from her.

McNamara agreed to be identified by The Sunday Times, which ran her picture on the front page.

The sheikh’s ministry paid for the four-day festival in Abu Dhabi, which took place in late February and featured several famous authors.

Sheikh Nahyan has received international attention as the Emirates hosted Pope Francis and moves toward normalising ties with Israel while welcoming Jews to this Muslim-ruled nation.

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