Comedian and Family Feud host Steve Harvey is currently on a tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to promote tourism to the Gulf state, Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya reported on Thursday, enjoying a traditional performance this week with members of the al-Shehi tribe.
Harvey told the National this week — a UAE-funded newspaper — that he was in the country to discover its “hidden jewels.” Gulf states like UAE and Saudi Arabia have increasingly attempted to attract celebrities to visit to boost their reputations in the West.
The UAE reopened all seven of its emirates to tourism in September after dramatically reducing the number of Chinese coronavirus cases within its borders. The move made it one of the few places around the world advertising safe tourism during the pandemic, which it appears to be further promoting with celebrity visits. Abu Dhabi also made headlines this year establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, opening its neighbor to one of the most prosperous economies in the Muslim world.
In the videos shared by al-Arabiya — posted on Twitter — Harvey appears in traditional dress, dancing, drumming, and chanting with members of the al-Shehi tribe in Ras al-Khaimah.
“These are the al-Shehi tribe that lives in the mountains and these are my brothers,” Harvey says in one of the videos, prompting cheers and traditional ululations from a crowd of men. Harvey also appears banging a drum with the group of men chanting. No women can be seen in the video; Islamic gulf states are notoriously repressive of the women in their communities.
— عُالسويدي (@lsuwaidil) December 16, 2020
In another video posted online, Harvey appears to explain the reason for his visit as an attempt to help the West better understand both the UAE and the Islamic world in general.
“Now, I know everybody and when I come back you’ll go ‘aw there goes my man, Steve Harvey is back,'” Harvey tells some members of the tribe. “This is like the best time I’ve had on a trip. I’ve been over here filming for six days, six straight days … filming for Facebook to put on to show the hidden gems of the UAE. To show the world the mountains and the rivers that they don’t know about.”
“They think that this is just desert. … They dont understand that Islam is peace because there’s a media machine,” Harvey says before the video abruptly ends.
ستيف هارفي عند الشحوح😬 pic.twitter.com/wlTmWpdYai
— A_ALMARRI (@AALMARRI2013) December 16, 2020
In a video interview with the National, Harvey explains that his travel is meant “to show the hidden jewels of the UAE” through social media posts.
“The propaganda of Islam and Muslims and Arab people is all wrong. They are exactly like is in terms of wanting – everybody I’ve met over here wants to be successful and wants to be happy,” Harvey tells the Emirati newspaper. “And most people I know want to be successful and want to be happy. They have a great love of family over here, they respect their tradition, they want to keep a lot of their traditional alive which, I really admire that. But there’s a culture over here that’s just of peace. … you get to walk around here crime-free.”
According to Amnesty International, the Emirati government regularly engages in “arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and enforced disappearance,” including against foreign nationals. Amnesty nonetheless praised the Emirati government in its 2019 for rare progress on women’s rights in the region.
In addition to touring areas of cultural significance for UAE, Harvey reportedly dined at Dubai’s Nusr-Et Steakhouse, owned by Turkish communist Nusret Gökçe. Gökçe has been the subject of widespread protests for serving Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro and praising late Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro.
Gökçe has become a global sensation for salting food.
“There are many misconceptions about the Arab people and Muslims in the U.S. They (the media) take the negative side (of Islam). They are people who have taken Islam and done some fake stuff with it. ISIS and stuff. and put Islam on it. That’s not what Islam is,” Harvey told the newspaper.
“And, in the end, you got a president who puts a travel ban on Muslim countries, and then you think – man, is this guy for real? Is he for real? (laughs),” he continued. “But, you know, that’s the government sometimes. It makes decisions sometimes that’s not the decision of all people. If I were to believe in the government, I wouldn’t be over here.”
The UAE’s Hollywood courtship mirrors increasingly common attempts by Saudi Arabia, believed to be spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to use American celebrities to improve the nation’s public image. Human rights activists expressed display in December 2019 when a host of celebrities — including actors Ryan Phillippe, Wilmer Valderrama, Ed Westwick; DJs David Guetta and Tiesto; and models Sofia Richie and Joan Smalls — helped promote a music festival in Riyadh, specifically claiming that Saudi Arabia’s policy on women’s rights was improving.
“What I just witnessed was truly special. I saw Saudi men and women ecstatic about an event that they never thought they would ever see in their lifetimes … it felt like a cultural shift,” actor Armie Hammer said of the festival at the time.
Human Rights Watch condemned Saudi Arabia’s use of celebrities to “image-wash” in October, noting that it has spent billions on American celebrities to “deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator.”