An ongoing international custody battle between Dubai’s ruler and one of his wives has undermined the deliberately cultivated image of the city as a playground for Western tourists that embraces modern sensibilities in an overwhelmingly conservative part of the world.
For many outside the Middle East, Dubai has developed a reputation as a glitzy, cosmopolitan hub — a view that has been molded and propagated by its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum, who is also the vice president of the United Arab Emirates.
But Maktoum, a 70-year-old billionaire racehorse owner, has faced successive claims of mistreatment by women in his family. The cases have highlighted what activists have said are the emirate’s regressive attitudes toward women’s rights and free speech that are too often masked by the perception of Dubai as the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
This week, one of Maktoum’s six wives, Princess Haya Bint Hussein, 45, appealed to Britain’s High Court for a forced marriage protection order for one of their children, which can protect someone who has been or is being forced into marriage. Haya has been staying in London with her and the sheikh’s two children and has indicated she does not intend to return to Dubai.