Haya of Jordan, or the princess who managed to escape Dubai

Pascale Nivelle
July 16, 2020, Elle

(translated to English)

Kidnapped princesses, flown millions, threats and private jets… the divorce of the Emir of Dubai has everything a bad thriller. plunged into the heart of a reality as frozen as it is golden.

On March 5, 2020, the comely Minister of Happiness of the United Arab Emirates made no comment. His boss, Mohammed ben Rachid Al-Maktoum, Prime Minister of the Emirates and ruler of Dubai, would however have deserved an invigorating balm after the sledgehammer struck by the High Court of Justice in London. In this divorce judgment, Princess Haya, his sixth wife and mother of two of her twenty-three children, wins across the board. Child custody and, above all, black and white recognition of the evil power of her husband sheikh over his own family. “The emir of Dubai ordered the kidnapping of two of his daughters and intimidated one of his wives to the point of forcing her to flee for the United Kingdom”, writes Judge McFarlane, who endorsed all the princess’s complaints except one,his 11-year-old daughter’s alleged arranged marriage to a powerful neighbor in the Emirates. Among other things, he recounts the episode which precipitated the leak: “On March 11, 2019, a helicopter landed near the residence of Princess Haya in Dubai. The pilot told him that he was to accompany him to Al-Awir, a prison in the desert. Without her 7-year-old son, who gripped her legs screaming, Haya would have obeyed. For British lawyer David Haigh, close to the case, it is “proof that she escaped to save her life, and that of her children”. The demonstration also that, behind huge skyscrapers and oversized amusement parks, “Dubai is a police state, led by a man, Sheikh Mohammed, who is accountable to no one”.


For the emir, this judgment is a snub, which is added to the incredible escape of his wife in July 2019. The story had caused much ink to flow in the tabloids. Planting her bodyguard, Princess Haya, 45, fled Dubai on a private jet, with her daughter, Al-Jalila, son, Zayed, and $ 40 million in cash. A drop of water in a capital valued at 16 billion dollars, in 2017, by the magazine “Forbes“. “It’s as if you and I had left with the car”, estimates a French communicator connoisseur of the great fortunes of the Gulf. The Dubai press had not said a word about the princess’s escape, first to Germany, then to London. Only Sheikh Mohammed had spoken, posting on Instagram a sonnet “to an anonymous woman” which shivers down your spine: “You lived and you died … O you who betrayed the most precious of trust, your game is revealed … Your lies are over, no matter what we were, no matter what you are … You let go of the horse’s bridle.”

A year later, the subject remains taboo in Dubai. Criticizing the royal family is akin to a crime of lèse majesté punishable by prison. “Do you want to put a contract on my head?” “Panics a French businessman who is asked what is whispered in the Emirates. On the phone, a European who has been working for several years in the local administration, who is also charming, suddenly loses her temper, “does the Western press have nothing else to do?” “Repeating in a furious tone” Gossips, gossips! “. The judgment of more than 30 pages rendered by the High Court in London does not change his certainties, “these are malicious rumors”. In the British capital, it is taken very seriously. Upon publication, The Guardian noted “a risk of destabilization of diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates, its ally in the Gulf”. It took courage for Judge McFarlane of the London Family Affairs Chamber to go against the well-understood interests of the British government in its former protectorate. “The emir has fingers in many pies,” comments a lawyer familiar with the case calmly. Fingers in many cakes. Fingers in many cakes. Fingers in many cakes.


In the West, Sheikh Mohammed, 71 years old on July 15, is considered the villain of the James Bond films. A wealthy monarch entrenched in his Palace of the Thousand and One Nights, polygamous and ruthless patriarch, keen on falconry and weapons of war (he has also been Minister of Defense since the age of 22). In Dubai, the land of happiness, the heir to the Al Maktoum dynasty remains a revered ruler, considered the father of the economic miracle. “He built an empire on sand, without oil, he was a visionary in the 1960s,” recalls Sylvain Lepetit, co-director in 2019 of “Golfe, la guerre des princes”, an excellent documentary on the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. But the mirage has faded under the blows of Covid-19, which threatens the economy, and competition from its Gulf neighbors.

Qatar boss, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia boss Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) clash with cyber attacks, television satellites and eight-figure football contracts . Mohammed ben Rachid of Dubai, nicknamed Sheikh Mo, is not entitled to the media acronym MBR. Discreet by nature, he prefers his horses and the planes of the Emirates company that he created in 1985. “In the region, it is the keeper of tradition. He is from the older generation, that of MBS’s father, ”explains Sylvain Lepetit. His Dubai subjects, happy to live in a prosperous country, without taxes or restrictive economic rules, praised him. Ten years ago, when he launched his Vision 2021 program, he convinced them that the United Arab Emirates would become ‘one of the best countries in the world ”. In Dubai, the country of 35,000 surveillance cameras, everything is fine as long as you don’t get out of the box. For women, it is narrow. Marital permission is required to work and any divorced woman must leave her children in the care of their father.

In 2004, her sixth marriage to Haya, daughter of King Hussein of Jordan, an Oxford graduate, champion of horseback riding at the Sydney Olympics and the only woman in the Middle East to hold a heavyweight license (to transport her horses), had resulted in blow a breeze of freshness in the desert. Blonde, British by her mother, Haya never appeared veiled. During the official celebrations in Dubai, radiant in her tight-fitting haute couture dresses, she walked hand in hand with her husband dressed like his ancestors, in dishdasha and keffiyeh. A self-proclaimed model of the “modern Muslim woman,” Haya fought for her convictions. “Women must realize their strength,” she told an Emirati women’s newspaper in 2016. Since their love at first sight during a horse show, she never stopped praise for her enlightened monarch, passionate like her about horse racing. Sheikh Mohammed has thousands of horses, scattered throughout his stud farms and the estates he owns in the United Kingdom. The thoroughbreds of his Godolphin stable, renowned as the most important in the world, champions of the grand prix, have earned him the consideration of the Queen and Prince Charles.

Every July at the Ascot races, the UK’s most popular social event, Sheikh Mohammed did not go unnoticed, in a tailcoat and top hat, with Princess Haya on his arm in feathered hat. She was smiling, he had a dark gaze behind his glasses, their age difference, twenty-five, barely noticed. In 2019, neither appeared in the Ascot columns, the tabloids noted. A few days later, the princess escaped by jet to Germany, then England. Since then, she has found refuge in the most beautiful Victorian mansion of Kensington Palace Gardens, the avenue of billionaires in London, far from the royal palace of Zabeel where she claims to have lived through hell. It is one of the rare monuments that cannot be visited in Dubai, tourists only see the monumental entrance, an arch surmounted by bronze horses, similar to those of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Soldiers stand guard, palm trees rustle in the wind.


And yet it has been twenty years since princesses have tried to escape from this golden prison. Before Haya, suspected of having an affair with her bodyguard, two daughters of the emir, Shamsa and Latifa, tried to flee and were caught by henchmen. Shamsa, 19 at the time, had escaped from her father’s estate in Surrey in the summer of 2000. Captured in Cambridge a few days later, she was jetted back to Dubai, without raising an eyebrow in her eyes. UK authorities. Before disappearing into the twists and turns of the royal palace, Shamsa sent an email: “I haven’t seen anyone, not even the man you call my father. I told you it was going to happen, they have the money and the power and they think they can do it all. According to lawyer David Haig, “Shamsa doeshas never reappeared since ”. Eighteen years later, his sister Latifa, now 34, relapsed under even more adventurous circumstances. This great sportswoman, rider and parachutist, made sure of complicity before crossing the border of Oman and joining in Jet-Ski a private yacht. She was stopped by coast guards off Goa, India, and handed over to soldiers in Dubai. Her helpless accomplices witnessed the scene: “Don’t bring me back alive, kill me here,” she screamed, struggling. The day before her escape, Latifa had recorded a video: “Perhaps the last of my life, my father is able to kill people to protect his reputation. »She tells about her loneliness, the kidnapping of her sister, whom she never saw again. After a first attempt to escape,she says she was put in prison for two years, tortured, then interned in a hospital. A little over a year ago, Latifa appeared in public in Dubai, fat, poorly dressed, with vague eyes, confirming the official thesis of the “unbalanced girl” broadcast by the palace.

Version to which Haya joined, before changing his mind. In 2018, suspected of adultery by her husband, she herself received threats, such as this revolver found in her bed one evening, cannon pointed towards the door. When, a year later, Lord McFarlane confirms Haya’s statements and writes in his judgment “the emir of Dubai ordered the kidnapping of two of his daughters”, he brings Shamsa and Latifa back to life. For David Haigh, leader of a Free Latifa committee which brings together more than 11 million members, this court decision is “historic” and suggests others. Queen Elizabeth has decided to distance herself and will in future refuse to reach out to the Emir in public, the “Daily Mail” revealed on March 7. For Sheikh Mohammed, absent from the hearings, these stories should not have left Dubai. “This case which concerns our children is of a very personal nature … As head of government, I am not authorized to participate in the work of the Court,” he said in a statement after the judgment. For him, divorce is already consummated under Dubai law. He allegedly had it pronounced on February 7, 2019, the 20th anniversary of the death of his stepfather, Hussein of Jordan, without informing Haya. The continuation, the alimony, the sharing of mansions, horses, etc., goes to the couple’s lawyers. On track in “the most expensive divorce in the world” according to the press, which values ​​it at $ 5 billion, the two largest London firms are clashing. On the Princess Haya side, Lady Fiona Shackleton, Baroness of Belgravia, alias the Steel Magnolia, famous for her surreal brushing and her divorced clients (Prince Charles, Paul McCartney, Prince Andrew…). On the side of Sheikh Mohammed, the other star of the London bar, Helen Ward, who defended Guy Ritchie against Madonna . In Dubai, if the settlement of this divorce goes beyond the rumor stage, it will be a first. And, who knows, a royal road for those who dream of escaping the law of men made for men.