Princess Haya, the polished princess whose affair brought a storm of abuse

David Brown
March 6, 2020, The Times

Princess Haya once personified the image of Dubai as an oasis of tolerance in a desert ruled by tribal conservatism.

The marriage of the Jordanian princess to Dubai’s powerful ruler cemented connections between the royal families and led to her international role with the United Nations.

After 15 years travelling the world selling the idealised image of the city state on the shores of the Gulf she has been forced into exile in London after betraying the strict rules beneath the veneer of western values.

Princess Haya, 45, the half-sister of King Abdullah of Jordan, was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset and St Hilda’s College, Oxford where she read philosophy, politics and economics. She represented Jordan in showjumping at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

She became the sixth and youngest wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is 25 years her senior, in 2004.

They had a daughter, Jalila, now 12, and a son, Zayed, seven. Even though they had not “enjoyed an intimate relationship with each other for a significant period of time” they remained on good terms, the family division of the High Court in London was told.

Sheikh Mohammed had apparently known for some time that the princess was having an affair with one of her bodyguards, but the first sign of his displeasure was a poem he wrote in December 2018.

Entitled The morality of a knight, it warned: “If my friend transgresses, I forgive once but if he repeats the offence, I ensure his regret . . . I was repelled by your great wrongdoing.”

From then on the princess experienced a “progressively more hostile climate”.

The princess is friends with the Queen

Trusted palace staff were replaced by those whom she had previously found troubling, the court was told. She was publicly humiliated when she was told that she had lost her desk at the Ruler’s Court.

Princess Haya said that she was terrified when her husband telephoned her and said: “I have heard that you are sitting in the palace with the British security [a reference to the bodyguard]. I am starting to doubt you.”

The following month she endured “one of the longest and most frightening days I ever remember living” when one of the sheikh’s helicopters arrived at her palace. The pilot said that he had orders to take her to al-Awir, a prison in the desert.

A series of anonymous notes was left in her bedroom. One said: “We will take your son — your daughter is ours — your life is over,” she said. She twice found a gun left on her bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off. The princess who had done so much to promote Dubai finally sought sanctuary with her children in London in April last year. She claims that her husband called to warn: “You and the children will never be safe in England.”

The day after she arrived she received a message from Saeed bin Suroor, the lead trainer at her husband’s Godolphin racing stables in Newmarket, Suffolk. It contained a viral video of a man smashing a television after it kept changing channels while he was watching a football match. The man did not realise that his wife was using a second remote control.

A message accompanying the video read: “If he found out about it he would have slaughtered his wife in anger.” Haya understood the message to refer to how the sheikh’s advisers saw her affair.

In May she discovered that the sheikh had ended their marriage without her knowledge. In an added insult he had backdated the divorce three months to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the death of her father, King Hussein.

The sheikh continued to publish traditional poems which the princess believes are messages to his followers denouncing her.

In one called You Lived and You Died he meditated on the response to betrayal. It includes the lines: “You betrayer, you betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed; Your days of lying are over and it doesn’t matter what we were and what you are.”

He appeared in a video posted on Instagram performing a traditional dance of victory over his enemies.

The sheikh also hired a powerful team of British lawyers to take legal action to secure his children’s return to Dubai. His former wife responded by seeking a forced marriage protection order over Jalila and a non-molestation order. Princess Haya finally emerged in public for the first time in months for a private hearing at the High Court in July last year.

On the second day of the hearing the sheikh published a poem. “His glorious swords have sharpened edges, they can cut when sheathed, let alone when they’re unsheathed,” he wrote. “He has countless soldiers to repel enemies. Those protected by heroes cannot be defeated.”

According to the princess this was further evidence of the sheikh using the ancient tradition of Arabic poetry to intimidate her and inspire his followers.

She told the court about her fears that the sheikh would order the kidnapping and return to Dubai of their children, as he did with two of their older half-sisters who had tried to escape his control.

“It is not just him I am worried about, it is some of the people around him,” she said. “I know how they operate. I have seen some of what has happened to [the children’s] sisters. I cannot face the fact that the same might happen to them.”

After a year of enforced silence she supported an application by the media, including The Times, to publish a fact-finding judgment by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division. “People think that I have wronged the children and wronged Sheikh Mohammed,” she said.

“The public narrative is of me leaving Dubai with the children, taking Sheikh Mohammed’s money following an affair. People do not want to be associated with us. I have not been able to protect fully the children or defend myself against the lurid reporting and character assassination.”