Has Dubai’s Missing Princess Latifa Surfaced for Good?

Three years after trying to flee her father’s sheikhdom, Sheikha Latifa appeared in a photograph at a Madrid airport.

Dan Adler, Vanity Fair
June 21, 2021

In 2018, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum tried to flee Dubai by boat. Her father is Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and the dramatic plan to sail across the Indian Ocean was scuttled when soldiers detained her and brought her back to Dubai. Latifa then went troublingly quiet, eventually prompting a United Nations panel to demand that the sheik produce proof of his daughter’s life.

In recent months, Latifa has begun to appear in photographs on social media, and on Sunday, she looked to be traveling through Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport—the first time she’s been photographed outside the United Arab Emirates since her failed escape attempt. Reuters noted that Sioned Taylor, a British teacher at a state-run Dubai school, posted on Instagram an image of herself and Latifa inside the airport. “Great European holiday with Latifa,” she wrote in the caption. “We’re having fun exploring!”

When asked in the comments section if Latifa was okay, Taylor wrote, “she is great” and added a thumbs-up emoji.

David Haigh, a lawyer who cofounded a campaign called Free Latifa, told Reuters that the photograph was encouraging. “We are pleased to see Latifa seemingly having a passport, travelling and enjoying an increasing degree of freedom, these are very positive steps forward,” he said, adding that “I can also confirm that several of the campaign team have been contacted directly by Latifa.”

Latifa has accused Sheik Mohammed of years of abuse and mistreatment, which he has repeatedly denied. In February, the BBC released videos of Latifa saying that she was staying in a villa that “has been converted into a jail.” The footage was viewed millions of times on YouTube, and a custody battle between Mohammed and his ex-wife Princess Haya, who fled Dubai for the United Kingdom, focused in part on a British judge’s conclusion that the sheik coordinated the interception of Latifa’s attempted escape as well as the abduction of her older sister Shamsa. (In statements to the court, he described his efforts to keep his daughters in Dubai as attempts to protect them.) Last year, Latifa’s personal capoeira instructor told Vanity Fair that the princess claimed to have barely any relationship with Mohammed. Despite the recent Instagram photos, a source close to Latifa’s lawyers told Reuters that it’s unclear how much freedom she has and whether she’ll be forced to return to Dubai.