March 9, 2020, Marie Claire
Dubai princesses and sisters Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum and Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum have not been seen in public since their failed escapes from the palace
Fear is the true opposite of freedom, and two Dubai princesses were willing to risk it all for a life without control. The two sisters – Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum and Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum – longed for a progressive life of study and travel, and both attempted to escape the palace walls in the Middle East on three separate occasions throughout their lives.
While both women were caught and haven’t been seen in public since, their stories have not been forgotten – and on February 28 London’s High Court ruled that the princesses were abducted by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Princess Latifa’s best friend, Finish personal trainer Tiina Jauhiainen, told the BBC she believes this is a ‘step towards’ her being free.
Tiina was with Princess Latifa, then 32, when she attempted escape just over two years ago on February 24, 2018. It was her second escape attempt following a try in 2002 aged 16, but she was quickly caught, brought home, and reportedly beaten and placed in solitary confinement.
The second escape was the result of a seven-year plan that involved driving into Oman, taking a dinghy into international waters before plans to fly to the United States and claim political asylum. But after eight days at sea, the boat was stormed by a heavily armed commando unit sent by Latifa’s father. ‘She was fighting with all her strength. She shouted that she wanted political asylum,’ recalls Jauhiainen, who now lives in the UK and has not seen the princess or had direct contact with her since that day. ‘When that didn’t work, she screamed at the armed men to kill her. Her last words were ‘Don’t take me back to Dubai. Just shoot me here.’’
About a week earlier, Princess Latifa had secretly recorded a 40-minute video documenting why she wanted to flee Dubai, citing abuse, torture, and imprisonment she had suffered at the hands of her family. She explained she was recording her testimony as insurance to prevent a cover-up or being discredited, in case her escape failed.
She was not seen again until a series of photos of her emerged, in December 2018, in Dubai with former Irish president Mary Robinson. While the Dubai government used the images to claim that Latifa was safely back in Dubai with her family, Tiina – who has been campaigning tirelessly for Princess Latifa to be freed, using advocacy groups and an active #FreeLatifa campaign on social media – says she looked vacant, miserable and heavily medicated.
Meanwhile, Princess Latifa’s older sister, Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum, is now 38, but she has not seen in public since she disappeared aged 19. In 2000 she was on the run for two months before she was tracked down in Cambridge by Sheikh Mohammed’s guards, and has reportedly been living under medicated house arrest for 19 years.
The Sheik has an estimated 30 children with at least six different wives, and as a former resident of Dubai, I saw the influence of the billionaire everywhere. His face is painted onto buildings and glittering, tall towers are named after him.
Dubai’s image is one of the most modern and progressive in the region, and this rings true, as it is a popular tourist destination and I saw firsthand women thrive there, in terms of study and careers. But the reality is that law is heavily influenced by Islamic religious law, and despite it’s party scene for expats, the city upholds a system of male guardianship that sees women enjoy less benefits than men. And take into account that Princess Latifa and Sheikha Shamsa are royalty, it means they were not at liberty to, well, liberty. The world is most definitely watching to see what happens next.