The escape of a high-profile royal casts an uncomfortable glare on women’s rights in the Gulf Arab monarchies amid a stream of runaway cases and asylum bids
First came Latifa, the previously unknown 33-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai who attempted to flee the United Arab Emirates by ship before her forced return. Then came Rahaf al-Qanun, the Saudi teen who barricaded herself in the Bangkok airport and launched a viral demand for refuge, which was granted by Canada. Finally, at least three sets of Saudi sisters have escaped to various locales over the past year, seeking asylum from the country’s male guardianship system.
But none of those cases can be compared to this week’s revelation that Princess Haya, the glamorous equestrian, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and wife of the ruler of Dubai, had fled the United Arab Emirates after 15 years of marriage – taking along their two children.
The flight of Haya, 45, came to light when a “poem” attributed to her husband was posted on Instagram by an adviser. In what reads more like an angry rant and less like classical Arabic verse, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum lambasts his wife for alleged infidelity, concluding: “I don’t care if you live or die.”
The stylish blonde is the most high-profile woman in recent memory to flee a gilded existence in the Gulf, and her escape presents unique challenges to the Emirati authorities. Unlike Latifa – one of dozens of children born to obscure wives and branded a “troubled” young woman after her forced return – Haya cannot be so easily dismissed.
“I simply do not expect that a forced capture and return of Princess Haya could ever pass the muster of public and political scrutiny. Princess Haya is a grown woman with a history of living in Europe, she’s well known to the international political community, and is likely to be far more conscious and demanding of her rights to asylum abroad,” said Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Canada.
The greatest issue in contention will be the fate of the children: daughter Al Jalila and son Zayed. Under UAE law, a Muslim father normally gains custody when a son turns seven and a daughter turns nine. Zayed is already seven,