Latifa made a video before trying to flee…
A new BBC Two documentary uncovers the extraordinary plight of a Dubai Princess and her doomed attempt to escape the “gilded cage” of her life in the United Arab Emirates city.
Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 33, is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. She is one of 30 children, and the second of three girls named Latifa.
Earlier this year – with the aid of a French ex-spy and a Finnish capoeira (a form of martial arts) teacher – Latifa tried to flee Dubai for the second time. However, she was allegedly captured by armed men about 30 miles off the coast of India, according to witnesses in the BBC’s film Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess.
The witnesses include the aforementioned spy Hervé Jaubert, teacher and close friend Tina Jauhiainen, and a Filipino crew who say they were sailing Latifa to safety.
Latifa’s eventual plan – which is featured in a video she made before she tried to escape – was to claim political asylum in Florida, where she could live a life of freedom she claims she is not entitled to as a woman in Dubai.
The UAE promotes itself as one of the most equal societies in the middle east, but like Saudi Arabia, it is governed according to Sharia law.
“The family law in the UAE provides for women to be obedient to their husbands, that is an actual legal provision,” Human Rights Watch campaigner Rothna Begum says in the documentary.
“It also allows men to chastise and physically beat their wives or the children. That is in the law of UAE. If a woman is considered wild by the family, they can decide to confine her and punish her so she doesn’t behave like that again.”
In her video, Latifa alleges that she had escaped once before when she was 16, but due to her naivety and restrictive upbringing, she only made it to the border. She claims she was then jailed for three years, beaten and tortured. The narrator of the documentary says it is impossible to verify her claims, but the details match previous accounts of torture.
In 2000, her older sister Shamsa attempted to run away after the family flew her to their £75 million estate in Surrey, only to be captured off the streets of Cambridge and flown back home.
“I have to remember to say everything, because this could be the last video I make,” Latifa says to camera. “Pretty soon I’m going to be leaving somehow and I’m not sure of the outcome, but I’m 99% positive it will work.”
As part of her escape plan, Hervé claims Latifa contacted him in 2011 after she read news reports online that he had escaped Dubai after getting into trouble with authorities. In email correspondence between the pair in the documentary, Latifa writes: “I’ve been mistreated and oppressed all of my life. Women are treated like subhumans. My father…. can’t continue to do what he’s been doing to us all.”
She later claims in her video tape that, “there is no justice here, especially if you’re a female. Your life if so disposable.”
She adds: “And if you’re watching this video, either I’m dead, or in a very bad situation.”
Latifa hasn’t been seen in public since her escape flatlined in March and her social media accounts have been shut down.
“She said she would prefer to be killed on the boat rather than going back to Dubai,” Hervé said. “I don’t even know where she is. I have the gravest concern.”
In a statement released by Dubai on Latifa’s 33rd Birthday (December 5), Dubai’s Royal Courts say she is safe, and that she is “adored and cherished” by her family.
“Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is now safe in Dubai,” the statement reads. “She and her family are looking forward to celebrating her birthday today, in privacy and peace, and to building a happy and stable future for her.”
You can watch the extraordinary story in full in Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, available on BBC iPlayer.