Dubai royal couple’s divorce is fraught with complications

Jacquelin Magnay
August 3, 2019, The Australian

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Haya in Dubai early in their marriage.

When the glamorous, estranged, 46-year-old Princess Haya of Dubai quickly retreated, not to the welcoming bosom of her Jordan­ian family but straight to the British courts to try to keep custody of her children, a harsh spotlight was firmly beamed onto the patriarchal societies of the Middle East.

For more than a decade, Haya used her rarefied and highly ­privileged position as the consort to the ruler of Dubai to promote ­humanitarian causes, not knowing­ she would be at the centre­ of a looming expensive legal battle­ over her own children’s ­protection and wider cultural ­gender ­issues.

Their marriage break-up is playing out amid huge inter­national attention but it is not just about a high-profile divorce of one of the world’s richest men, the 70-year-old ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. His $6 billion global empire includes the Godolphin stables in Australia headed by Bart Cummings’s grandson, James Cummings ­(Godolphin’s Cross Counter won last year’s Melbourne Cup).

It embraces women’s rights, child protection, cultural ­issues and, as a sideline, even some poetic threats.

At stake is the international reputation of Dubai — once the exotic mid-flight hub for Qantas travel to Europe as well as intra-country friendship in the volatile Middle East.

So far the recriminations of the case have caused shockwaves among the couple’s high-powered friends and associates. Such is the sheik’s ­influence, he is close friends with Queen Elizabeth, bonding over a mutual love of horses and racing.

Haya, meanwhile, has sought sanctuary in her luxurious Kensingto­n Gardens mansion, bought for $140 million two years ago from steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. Her next-door neighbours, in ­Kensington Palace, are Prince William and his wife Kate.

Where it was widely assumed that Haya had fled her 15-year marriage as the sixth wife of the sheik i