The estranged sixth wife of the ruler of Dubai asked a London court on Tuesday to protect her child from being forced into marriage, escalating a standoff within one of the world’s wealthiest royal families that has so far been cloaked in secrecy.
The wife, Princess Haya, fled with the couple’s 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son to London several months ago, making her at least the third woman to try to escape the palaces and estates of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
On Tuesday, the princess made her first public appearance since then, at the opening of the closely watched legal battle.
Sitting in a wood-paneled hearing room of the family division of the high court, Princess Haya also asked for custody of the couple’s two children and a non-molestation order protecting her from violence or harassment, Britain’s Press Association reported.
But it was her appeal for a forced marriage protection order that drew the most notice. Such orders allow the British authorities to prevent a family from forcing someone into marriage. They allow the authorities to block the person from being taken abroad, and they can also be used to help someone already in a forced marriage.
Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers contested Princess Haya’s request, asking the court to allow the children to be taken back to Dubai, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates.
Details of the couple’s legal motions were not disclosed, including which child was the subject of the princess’s marriage-protection motion.
The judge, Andrew McFarlane, barred British-based reporters for international news outlets like The New York Times from watching the proceedings. The hearing was also subject to broad reporting restrictions.
But the judge, citing “a public interest,” allowed some information to be disclosed after denying a request by Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers to suppress even the most basic details of what he and Princess Haya were seeking.
Princess Haya, 45, the most visible of the sheikh’s six wives, appeared in court beside her lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, who represented Prince Charles in divorce proceedings with Princess Diana. Sheikh Mohammed was not in court, but he is being represented by Helen Ward, who helped Guy Ritchie in his divorce from Madonna.
Representatives for both parties declined to comment on Tuesday. In a joint statement this month, they said the legal proceedings were “concerned with the welfare of the two children of their marriage and do not concern divorce or finances.”
Princess Haya’s flight followed attempts by two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters from other marriages, Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum and Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, to leave. They were recaptured by Emirati forces and are said by advocates to be held in Dubai against their will.