"Just Keep Your Head Down, Don’t Bring Attention," Says Arab Filmmaker on Not Wearing National Dress in U.S.

Men in Arabic National Dress - Getty H 2016
Credit: Getty

The UAE government has warned its citizens against wearing traditional Arabic robes while visiting the West after an Emirati man was detained at gunpoint in Ohio.

Middle East nationals have been urged to think carefully about their wardrobe choices while traveling abroad, especially in the U.S.

The warning comes from the government of the United Arab Emirates days after an Emirati man was detained at gunpoint in Ohio, the police having been alerted by a suspicious hotel clerk who had spied his flowing white robes and headdress.

Ahmed Al Menhali, 41, had traveled to Cleveland for heart surgery (the Cleveland Clinic is a very popular destination for Middle East medical tourism), but after trying to book a room at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in the suburb of Avon, Menhali soon found himself being ordered to lie face down on the ground and being forcefully searched, resulting in his suffering a panic attack and being hospitalized.

“They were brutal with me,” he later told reporters, adding that he had always worn traditional Arabic dress when traveling and had never experienced such a situation before.

While police and town officials apologized for Menhali’s “very regrettable” treatment, the UAE is now advising its citizens against wearing national dress when in public places in the West “to ensure their safety,” adding that women should abide European bans on face veils.

“I’m on the fence about whether you should wear [national dress] or not, but I think in the current climate, looking at what’s happening in the U.S. with Donald Trump and in the U.K. with Brexit, it’s a scary time,” Emirati director Majid Al Ansari tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think it’s best just to keep your head down and do you thing…don’t bring attention.”

Al Ansari, who works at UAE production house Image Nation Abu Dhabi, proudly wore national dress when his debut feature Zinzana had its regional premiere at the Dubai Film Festival in December. The Tarantino-esque psychological thriller, set entirely in a police station and starring Saleh Bakri (The Time That Remains) and Ali Suliman (Body of Lies, Lone Survivor), was the event’s breakout hit, snapped up by Netflix in its first Middle East acquisition and seeing the hugely promising filmmaker signed to UTA.

Al Ansari is due to fly to LA soon on a trip that is “part work, part holiday,” but he has no intentions of packing his white robes – known in some parts of the Gulf as a kandura – for the visit.

“I never do, I didn’t even when I was studying there, it just brings so much attention,” he says, adding that he was a student in California before Dubai became a known entity in the U.S. “You’d say, ‘I’m from Dubai,’ and they’d say, ‘What state is that in?’ So imagine those guys seeing someone in a kandura.”

While there’s the security and safety issue to consider, Al Ansari hopes to find a positive angle from the national dress warning.

“If you go to a different country, I think the beauty of it all is to immerse yourself in their culture and heritage. So if I go to America, I want to go to a diner, I want to have breakfast at an IHOP,” he says. “And I think the first step for a person who travels with a kandura, the first step for him to get into their culture is to wear jeans.”