The UAE men’s handball team cut short a trip to Tunisia Friday, the Tunisian federation said after it appointed female referees for a game in apparent solidarity with women in a row with Emirates Airline.
The Gulf visitors forfeited two games after Emirates received instructions to deny Tunisian women access to its planes over a feared “terrorist attack” involving a woman carrying a Tunisian passport.
In response, the North African country on Sunday halted Emirates flights between Tunis and Dubai.
Handball federation secretary general Amir Saadi said women had been appointed as referees for a friendly match between the two national teams on Friday.
But, according to Saadi, the UAE team announced it was forfeiting that game and another scheduled for Saturday for “technical reasons”, citing the absence of 10 players and injuries of four others.
They had said “there was no link with political affairs”, he added.
Tunisian social media users have slammed the travel measures against women from their country as “discriminatory” and “humiliating”.
A source in the office of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said the two countries were in talks to find a solution.
Transport Minister Radhouane Ayara on Thursday, however, told Sham FM radio the discussions had not made much ground.
Political analyst Hamza Meddeb said the tensions between Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates were linked in part to Tunisia not choosing sides in the Gulf region’s worst crisis in years.
The UAE was among a group of countries to sever ties with Qatar in June over its alleged support for Islamist extremism and close ties to Iran. Doha has denied all charges.
Meddeb said the United Arab Emirates wanted to discourage ruling party Nida Tounes from allying with Islamist party Ennahda ahead of local elections in May.