Weeks after Qatar’s national carrier announced plans to relax its social media policies for employees, it has suspended a crew member for apparently causing cultural offense.
Qatar Airways said it has launched an investigation after receiving a complaint about a tweeted photo in which a crew member is seen smiling and holding up two black abayas.
صورة/ مضيف الخطوط القطرية ممسكاً بعبايات تركنها راكبات بعد الوصول لوجهتهن لإحدى الدول الدول الأوروبية ! pic.twitter.com/7rEA7rVdLT
— المجلس (@Almajlliss) September 4, 2016
The photo was flagged up by a Kuwaiti tweeter with 745,000 followers, who implied the man appeared to be mocking Gulf women who change out of their abayas when they travel to Europe.
— الخطوط القطرية (@qatarairwaysar) September 6, 2016
The carrier responded to the message by saying, “Qatar Airways strongly expresses its respect for all passengers traveling aboard its flights. Therefore, the crew member in question has been suspended pending an investigation into the incident.”
The move comes as the airline relaxes a previous ban on cabin crew sharing photos of themselves in uniform on social media.
Last month, a spokesperson told Doha News:
“They are our ambassadors, and they have shown that they are more than capable of handling the responsibility.”
The suspension of the employee was appreciated by several people on Twitter, who thanked Qatar Airways for respecting passenger privacy.
— نواف الشمري#Ertuğrul (@6_6nwaf11) September 6, 2016
Translation: He and the person who took the picture have to be punished. The latter is his accomplice in this crime.
But others questioned whether anything offensive had actually taken place.
Apparently QR suspended the cabin crew flight attendant for holding an abaya and smiling! Wtf ppl are over reacting! pic.twitter.com/guRZbMZTRP
— Mohammed Al-Jufairi (@Halawala) September 7, 2016
— عبدالرحمن الجميلي (@bo_fahad_08) September 6, 2016
Translation: What sin has this crew member committed? (I don’t think) he intended any insult or to make fun of passengers. It’s clear to me that the abayas belong to female children. And such things happen (people leaving belongings behind).
Meanwhile, many moved onto a larger debate about cultural expectations and female modesty.
While Islam does not mandate that women wear abayas, they are a cultural norm for local women in the GCC.
This is why some woman change out of the covering when they travel outside of the region. However, the move still raises the ire of some:
— ابو خالد (@332_abo) September 6, 2016
Translation: He hasn’t done anything except expose the hypocrites. Don’t punish him because he’s innocent of any insult. It’s the woman who abandoned her abaya and left it behind that is worthy of punishment.
@qatarairwaysar تحقيق ليش شمسوي ترى هاي صج ماسوى شي غلط المفروض المسافرين يحترمون نفسهم ???
— Noor AlShamali (@NoorZM) September 6, 2016
Translation: An investigation? What for? He truly did nothing wrong. It behooves passengers to show some self-respect.
Privacy at stake
A similar conversation has been running on Qatar Shares, an Arabic-language online forum.
On that thread, commenters debated whether the crew member should be punished or whether the actual problem was that Gulf women don’t dress as modestly when traveling overseas.
But others said the photo was offensive because it represented a violation of privacy.
One commenter explained, as translated into English:
“The woman who disgraced the abaya by discarding it is to be judged by God and not us humans…
The issue here is violating the privacy of passengers, meddling in someone else’s business, exposing them (the women) on the internet in order to make fun of them and insult a large sector of women in the Arab and Muslim world.”
The person added, “I hope that the crew member is held accountable and fired without given an expertise certificate from work because he will have been sacked for unethical and unprofessional conduct.”
Qatar Airways has not responded to a request for comment.