Literary festival curator accuses UAE tolerance minister of sexual assault

Maya Oppenheim
Caitlin McNamara claims Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan sexually assaulted her back in February while she was working with him at the Hay Festival (AP)
Caitlin McNamara claims Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan sexually assaulted her back in February while she was working with him at the Hay Festival (AP)

One of the UK’s leading literary festivals has announced it will not be going back to Abu Dhabi after one of the event’s curators claimed she was sexually assaulted by the United Arab Emirates’ tolerance minister.

Caitlin McNamara claimed a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, sexually assaulted her in a remote island villa back in February while she was working with him at the Hay Festival.

“We got in a gold lift where he pushed me against the wall and began rubbing my breasts in a weird way like windscreen wipers,” she told The Sunday Times.  The paper said she had waived her right to anonymity.  

“We got out in a room full of bottles of perfumes and he pushed me backwards onto a circular bed covered in fur. He pulled up his kandora and was naked under, and got on top of me. I pulled my dress down but he put his hands up my dress and his fingers inside of me, it was really hurting and dry-humping me.” 

Sheikh Nahyan has denied these allegations levied against him.

The 32-year-old added: “He was so frenzied. I kept trying to push him away – there was no way I could do this politely.

“I was scared. I know what they do to people like those princesses from Dubai who tried to escape who they abducted and keep prisoner. This man controlled every aspect of my life out there, my flights, my visa, and I’d spent enough time there to know his power and influence.”

Sheikh Nahyan has denied all of the allegations against him and a letter sent by London libel lawyers Schillings to The Sunday Times said: “Our client is surprised and saddened by this allegation, which arrives eight months after the alleged incident and via a national newspaper. The account is denied.”

Ms McNamara went to the United Arab Emirates to help launch the Hay literary festival there.

The Foreign Ministry of the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula also home to Dubai, said it does not comment on personal matters. Nevertheless, The Independent is seeking comment from Sheikh Nahyan. 

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

Hay Festival chair Caroline Michel said her colleagues are committed to supporting Ms McNamara and said the festival will not return to Abu Dhabi while the sheikh remains in his post.

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, who recently co-hosted the Arab Women Awards, has received international attention as the Emirates hosted Pope Francis and moves toward normalising ties with Israel while welcoming Jewish people to the nation.

A medical report seen by The Sunday Times states Ms McNamara is experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the alleged incident.  

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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