A competition held during Ramadan for Muslims who have memorised the Quran might have been thought to be above politics.
Emirati authorities on Monday expelled a Somali who was taking part in the annual competition, which takes place in Dubai, after Somalia refused to break ties with Qatar in the ongoing Gulf dispute.
The Dubai International Holy Quran Award is given annually and is sponsored by Dubai’s government. The prize for first, second and third place, respectively, is AED 250,000 ($68,000), AED 200,000 ($54,000) and AED 150,000 ($40,800).
Ismail Madar, considered a favourite to win, was told he couldn’t continue to compete as a representative for Somalia.
Speaking to local media, Madar said that he felt that the decision was a result of Somalia’s position on the Gulf crisis, with tensions between Qatar and its neighbouring states remaining high.
The United Arab Emirates has taken a lead in the economic blockade of Qatar, alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, for its alleged support of militant groups. Qatar denies the claims.
Before being removed from the competition, Madar was considered a favourite to win.
Madar said he was expecting to come first or second in the competition, saying that “unfortunately they punished me”. He was allegedly given only 10 minutes to leave the premises of the competition.
With a security escort, Madar was taken to the airport and deported back to Somalia.
The incident came after the UAE recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu to protest Somalia’s neutrality in the Gulf crisis.
Somalia has urged both sides to seek dialogue to resolve the dispute.
A Gulf minister allegedly attempted to bribe Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” Mohamed, with $80m to join the boycott of Qatar, and to aid the facilitation of the blockade against them, according to the New Arab.
The former editor in chief of Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq, Jaber al-Harmi, told the New Arab: “The minister had even gone to the extent of trying to pressure Farmaajo through the help of another African country.”