Princess Latifa: ‘Hostage’ ordeal of Dubai ruler’s daughter revealed

February 16, 2021, BBC Panorama

The daughter of Dubai’s ruler who tried to flee the country in 2018 later sent secret video messages to friends accusing her father of holding her “hostage” as she feared for her life.

https://www.latifa.info/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/BBC-Panorama-Latifa-2021.mp4
Videos show Dubai’s Princess Latifa imprisoned against her will in “villa jail”

In footage shared with BBC Panorama, Princess Latifa Al Maktoum says commandos drugged her as she fled by boat and flew her back to detention.

The secret messages have stopped – and friends are urging the UN to step in.

Dubai and the UAE have previously said she is safe in the care of family.

Ex-UN rights envoy Mary Robinson, who had described Latifa as a “troubled young woman” after meeting her in 2018, now says she was “horribly tricked” by the princess’s family.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and president of Ireland has joined calls for international action to establish Latifa’s current condition and whereabouts.

“I continue to be very worried about Latifa. Things have moved on. And so I think it should be investigated,” she said.

Dubai’s Princess Latifa before her escape attempt in 2018

Latifa’s father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is one of the richest heads of state in the world, the ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The videos were recorded over several months on a phone Latifa was secretly given about a year after her capture and return to Dubai. She recorded them in a bathroom as it had the only door she could lock.

In the messages, she detailed how:

  • she fought back against the soldiers taking her off the boat, “kicking and fighting” and biting one Emirati commando’s arm until he screamed
  • after being tranquillised she lost consciousness as she was being carried on to a private jet, and didn’t wake up until it landed in Dubai
  • she was being held alone without access to medical or legal help in a villa with windows and doors barred shut, and guarded by police
Tiina Jauhiainen, Latifa’s capoeira instructor, helped her with the escape plan

Latifa’s account of her capture and detention was revealed to Panorama by her close friend Tiina Jauhiainen, maternal cousin Marcus Essabri and campaigner David Haigh, who are all behind the Free Latifa campaign.

They say they have taken the difficult decision to release the messages now out of concern for Latifa’s safety.

It was they who managed to establish contact with Latifa as she was held in a Dubai “villa”, which she said had barred windows and police guards.

Panorama has independently verified the details of where Latifa was held.

Sheikh Mohammed has built a hugely successful city but rights activists say there is no tolerance of dissent and the judicial system can discriminate against women.

He has a vast horse-racing enterprise and frequently attends major events such as Royal Ascot, where he has been pictured with Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth in 2019 with Sheikh Mohammed, second from right, who regularly attends horse racing events

But he has faced severe criticism over Princess Latifa and also her stepmother, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain, who fled to London in 2019 with her two children.

The boat escape

Latifa, now 35, first tried to flee at 16 but it was only after contacting French businessman Herve Jaubert in 2011 that a long-planned escape was put into motion. This was done with the help of Ms Jauhiainen, initially her instructor for capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.

On 24 February 2018, Latifa and Ms Jauhiainen took an inflatable boat and jet ski to international waters, where Mr Jaubert was waiting in a US flagged yacht.

But eight days later, off India, the boat was boarded by commandos. Ms Jauhiainen says smoke grenades forced her and Latifa out of hiding in the bathroom below deck and they were held at gunpoint.

Latifa was returned to Dubai, and hadn’t been heard from since until now.

Ms Jauhiainen and the crew on the boat were freed after two weeks of detention in Dubai. The Indian government has never commented on its role.

Latifa pre-recorded a video in 2018 that was aired after her escape went wrong

Before her 2018 escape attempt, Latifa recorded another video which was posted on YouTube after her capture. “If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing, either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation,” she said.

It was this that sparked huge international concern and calls for her release. The UAE came under intense pressure to account for her and a meeting was arranged with Ms Robinson.

The Robinson meeting

She flew to Dubai in December 2018 at the request of her friend, Princess Haya, for a lunch at which Latifa was also present.

Ms Robinson told Panorama she and Princess Haya had earlier been presented with details of Latifa’s bipolar disorder, a condition she does not have.

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Former UN official Mary Robinson says she was “horribly tricked” in the Dubai princess scandal

She said she did not ask Latifa about her situation because she did not want to “increase the trauma” of Latifa’s “condition”.

Nine days after the lunch, the UAE’s foreign ministry published photographs of Ms Robinson with Latifa, which it said was proof that the princess was safe and well.

Ms Robinson said: “I was particularly tricked when the photographs went public. That was a total surprise… I was absolutely stunned.”

In 2019, the tensions within Dubai’s ruling family were laid bare before England’s High Court after one of the sheikh’s wives, Princess Haya, fled to the UK with two of her children and applied for a protection order and non-molestation order against the sheikh.

Princess Haya (left) arrives with Baroness Fiona Shackleton her lawyer, at the High Court in February 2020

Last year, the High Court issued a series of fact-finding judgments that said Sheikh Mohammed had ordered and orchestrated the forcible return of Latifa in 2002 and 2018, as well as the unlawful abduction from the UK in 2000 of her older sister Princess Shamsa, who had also tried to escape.

The court found Sheikh Mohammed “continues to maintain a regime whereby both these two young women are deprived of their liberty”.

Latifa’s friends had hoped that the court case in March last year that ruled against Sheikh Mohammed, calling him “not honest” and in favour of Princess Haya, might help.

On the decision to release the messages now, Ms Jauhiainen just says that “a lot of time has passed” since contact was lost.

She says she thought hard about releasing the video messages now, but adds: “I feel that she would want us to fight for her, and not give up.”

The governments of Dubai and the UAE have failed to respond to requests for comment from the BBC about Latifa’s current condition.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56075528

SET HER FREE Dubai ruler DID imprison daughter princess Latifa and must be brought to justice, says UN

Ben Hill
December 9, 2020, The Sun

THE ruler of Dubai did imprison his princess daughter and must be brought to justice, the UN has said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum “ordered and orchestrated” the kidnapping of his daughter Princess Latifa, 34, two years ago after she fled the emirate he rules, according to a judgement by the UK High Court in March.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was found to have kidnapped his daughter

Yet despite worldwide publicity and her plight being featured in an award-winning BBC documentary – Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of a Missing Princess – she is still being held against her will in her homeland.

 

She has not been seen in public since the luxury yacht she was staying on with a friend was stormed by commandos in the Indian Ocean in March 2018.

 

The UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has backed a complaint by the Free Latifa campaign, who had called on it to intervene in the case.

 

The WGEID found that the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances had been breached and that Dubai should be investigated and brought to justice.

 

They also found that adequate compensation should be given to Latifa.

 

Human rights lawyer David Haigh, who co-founded the Free Latifa campaign, said: “This is a terrific judgement, and we are encouraged that it will lead to freedom for Latifa.

 

“We’re particularly pleased the WGEID didn’t allow itself to be intimidated by the refusal of the UAE government to cooperate with it or be taken in by the UAE’s dishonesty and deception, but instead have relied on the considerable evidence we submitted.

 

In a letter to Mr Haigh, the WGEID chief rapporteur Tae-Ung Baik said his group had concluded that “Sheikha Latifa is currently held in incommunicado detention in… Dubai.”

 

He said the working group was “concerned” for Latifa.

FURTHER ACTION

 

The WGEID said that, having located Latifa, the first part of its role was over, but it brought on board several other UN working groups to take the case further.

 

Those UN groups deal with with violence against women, arbitrary detention, and torture, inhumane and degrading treatment.

 

Mr Haigh added: “We’re grateful that the WGEID have ensured the UN will keep pressing for fair treatment for Latifa under the requirements of international law.

 

“Because the perpetrator of Latifa’s detention is her father who rules the country, the fox is still in charge of the hen house, but the WGEID’s judgement is a slap in the face for Sheikh Mohammed’s despotic rule and his disregard for his daughter’s human rights, and we very much believe this could be see a route open for the release of Latifa.”

 

Tiina Jauhiainen, co-founder of the Free Latifa campaign, said, “Once again we have Dubai breaking international law, failing to respond to United Nations requests, and abusing the human rights of the ruler’s own family.

 

“How much longer will the world stand idly by while a state seeking acceptance in the developed world rides roughshod over the laws and values that are integral to our society and international community?

 

“The UN has now found that my friend Latifa, kidnapped at gun point in March 2018, is detained against her will in Dubai in breach of international law.

 

“The UN and the international community must now enforce this finding and require the UAE to free Latifa and bring the UAE and Indian perpetrators to justice.”

EMOTIONAL COUSIN

 

Latifa’s cousin Marcus Essabri, who now lives in England, added: “I have known Latifa since she was a little girl.

 

“She is a wonderful woman who wants nothing more than to go out and see the world and find her natural place in it.

 

“I am overwhelmed by the support for my cousin and cannot not thank the WGEID members enough for their commitment to securing justice for her.

 

“But we are up against a ruler who doesn’t care about world opinion unless it really affects him, so our efforts to free Latifa and her sister Shamsa must not only go on but be intensified.”

 

In an earlier 40 minute video, Latifa revealed she had tried to leave the Emirates aged 16 but was captured at the border, jailed for three years, beaten and tortured.

 

The UAE insists that Latifa is alive, safe and living with her family in Dubai.

 

In the submission to the WGEID, leading human rights QC Rodney Dixon declared: “We are anxious to ensure that the UN takes all possible steps now to secure the safety, health and release of [Princess Latifa].”

 

Latifa’s UK-based legal team also filed a 76-page submission to the WGEID earlier in the year which called for the immediate release of the royal.

 

That submission set out the ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane at the High Court in the custody battle between Princess Haya of Jordan and Latifa’s father.

 

That ruling included the findings that Latifa was kidnapped in 2018 and her father was not “open or honest” when trying to assure the world that Latifa was safe in his care.

 

It also found the sheikh waged a campaign of “fear and intimidation” against his sixth wife Princess Haya, who recently fled to Britain fearing he would kill her.

 

Rodney Dixon QC said: “It is most concerning that despite the High Court judgement finding that Princess Latifa had been kidnapped, and worldwide calls for the urgent release of Latifa, she remains in captivity.

 

“Her fundamental human rights are being unjustifiably restricted and abused. The international community can no longer stand by.

 

“We are petitioning the UN Working Groups on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention and other bodies to get access to her without delay and to ensure that she is released unharmed.

 

“It is vital more than ever now that the UN should take all necessary action to secure Latifa’s immediate release having been unlawfully held in the UAE for over two years.

 

 

Princess Latifa appeared in a video in which she described the reality of life in the Dubai royal family

Dubai ruler’s ‘imprisoned’ daughter Princess Latifa remains in ‘grave danger’ as family begs UN to save her

Jon Lockett
September 30, 2020, The Sun

The United Nations is being urged to take “decisive action” to protect “imprisoned” Princess Latifa of Dubai who lawyers believe is in “grave danger” at the hands of her billionaire father.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum “ordered and orchestrated” the kidnapping of his daughter two years ago after she fled the country he rules, according to a judgement by the UK High Court in March.

Princess Latifa was abducted from a luxury yacht in 2018

Yet despite worldwide publicity and her plight being featured in an award-winning BBC documentary – Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of a Missing Princess – she is still being held against her will in her homeland.

She has not been seen in public since the luxury yacht she was staying on with a friend was stormed by commandos in the Indian Ocean in March 2018.

In a 40 minute video, Latifa revealed she had previously tried to leave the Emirates aged 16 but was captured at the border, jailed for three years, beaten and tortured.

The UAE insists that Latifa is alive, safe and living with her family in Dubai.

Now the princess’s legal team is calling on the UN Working group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to get the UN to order Dubai to provide exact details of Latifa’s whereabouts.

In a submission to the WGEID, leading human rights QC Rodney Dixon declared: “We are anxious to ensure that the UN takes all possible steps now to secure the safety, health and release of [Princess Latifa].”

And he urged the UN to “take decisive action in respect of this case which has gone on for a considerable period of time while Princess Latifa remains in grave danger”.

Latifa’s UK-based legal team also filed a 76-page submission to the
WGEID earlier in the year which called for the immediate release of the royal.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai
She appeared in a video in which she described the reality of life in the Dubai royal family

That submission set out the ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane at the High Court in the custody battle between Princess Haya of Jordan and Latifa’s father.

That ruling included the findings that Latifa, 34, was kidnapped in 2018 and her father was not “open or honest” when trying to assure the world that Latifa was safe in his care.

It also found the sheikh waged a campaign of “fear and intimidation” against his sixth wife Princess Haya, who recently fled to Britain fearing he would kill her.

Rodney Dixon QC said: “It is most concerning that despite the High Court judgement finding that Princess Latifa had been kidnapped, and worldwide calls for the urgent release of Latifa, she remains in captivity.”

“Her fundamental human rights are being unjustifiably restricted and abused. The international community can no longer stand by.”

“We are petitioning the UN Working Groups on Enforced and Involuntary
Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention and other bodies to get access to her without delay and to ensure that she is released unharmed.”

“It is vital more than ever now that the UN should take all necessary action to secure Latifa’s immediate release having been unlawfully held in the UAE for over two years.”

Lawyer David Haigh, of the #FreeLatifa campaign, added: “The wagons are now circling around the embattled regime in Dubai.”

In the months since the London judgement, numerous people have indicated they will distance themselves from the toxic Al-Maktoum dynasty, including the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II.

“It’s now time for the UN to add its considerable weight to the fight against the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the UAE regime.”

Tiina Jauhiainen, the Finnish best friend of Latifa, who was kidnapped alongside her, said the new submission was the result of two years of dedicated hard work that began while she was still detained in the UAE.

The inside story of the Dubai princess who fled from her billionaire father

Two years ago, Princess Latifa staged an escape from her repressed life in Dubai. It failed and she hasn’t been seen in public since

Radhika Sanghani
February 22, 2020, The Telegraph

When we got in the car on the day of our escape, I turned to Latifa and said, ‘We’re like Thelma and Louise,’ says Tiina Jauhiainen, with a small smile at the bittersweet memory. ‘But then Latifa cried out, ‘No, no, don’t say that! Their story doesn’t have a happy ending.’’ 

That was two years ago, on 24 February 2018, the day that Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, tried to escape her life as a Dubai princess, with the help of her best friend Tiina. 

At 32, it was the first time Latifa had ever been in the front seat of a car, having always had a driver and travelled in the back. The escape was the result of a seven-year plan that involved driving into Oman, taking a dinghy into international waters, and boarding a yacht to Sri Lanka, from where Latifa hoped to fly to the United States and claim political asylum.

‘Latifa was initially relieved when we got to the boat, but every day she was growing increasingly worried that her father might already be after her,’ says Tiina. ‘At times the days on the boat felt really, really long. It got hotter the closer we got to India and the boat was full of cockroaches. Escaping on a yacht sounds glamorous, but it was the opposite. We spent most of our time downstairs, trying to contact journalists on our phones, as Latifa felt that might protect her.’

But after just eight days on board the yacht, captained by Hervé Jaubert (a Frenchman whose help Latifa had enlisted after she read about his own escape from Dubai), the princess’s short-lived freedom came to an abrupt end off the coast of Goa, when the two women heard gunshots from the upper deck. ‘Latifa immediately realised they’d come after us,’ recalls Tiina. ‘We were downstairs hiding in the bathroom. We were scared, hugging each other. There was nowhere to go.’

The father: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid; Ruler of Dubai  (CREDIT: Getty)

The cabin began to fill with smoke – ‘We later realised they were stunt grenades,’ explains Tiina – and the pair were forced on to the upper deck, where they were met by several commandos pointing machine guns at them. ‘It was pitch black with the red lights of the laser sights pointed at different parts of our bodies. I was pushed to the floor, in a pool of blood [several crew members had been injured]. They tied my hands, and shouted, “Close your eyes! Don’t move or we’ll shoot you.”

‘We were taken back to Dubai. That was the last time I saw Latifa. She was being dragged off the boat, kicking and screaming, yelling that she was seeking political asylum. They ignored her. The whole situation was so unreal. I wish I’d said something, but I was paralysed. They threatened to shoot my brain out if I spoke. It was shocking. It was beyond my comprehension.’

Along with Jaubert, Tiina was taken to a national security prison, where she was kept in solitary confinement for several weeks. ‘[I was] in a cell, which was freezing cold with the fluorescent lights always on. There was a hatch in the wall that they’d open to give me food,’ she says.

‘It was mental torture. I was sleep deprived and the guards told me I’d “stabbed the ruler of Dubai in the back”, so I’d get the death penalty, or a life sentence. They tried to make me do a false confession, saying I’d tried to cheat Latifa into escaping. Sometimes they’d get so angry I felt like they were about to hit me.’

Tiina was released after a video that Latifa had made prior to the escape went up on You Tube, and it was made public that she’d tried to leave the country with her. The powerful film, which Tiina helped her make and which has since been seen by more than four million people, begins, ‘If you are watching this video… Either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.’ She goes on to recount what happened to her after her previous escape attempt, and describes her father as ‘the most evil person I have ever met’.

There has never been any response to the video, except a short statement from her family, released in December 2018. ‘Her Highness Sheikha Latifa is now safe in Dubai,’ it claimed.

Sheikh Mohammed, 70, is largely credited with turning Dubai into the global, glamorous city it is today. A keen equestrian who was partly educated in England, he is the founder of the Godolphin racing stable, owns a £75 million estate in Surrey and is an acquaintance of the Queen. Since he began ruling Dubai in 2006, he has launched a number of major businesses including the Emirates airline and the Jumeirah Group, making his family’s worth an estimated $4 billion, all while managing to regularly post his own poetry on Instagram to his 4.9 million followers.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum hosted the Queen in Abu Dhabi, November 2010  (CREDIT: Getty)

Yet behind his public image as a progressive ruler of a forward-thinking country lies a more controversial side. Campaign group Human Rights Watch has called the UAE ‘hypocritical’, and says that any attempt to paint the government as tolerant ‘is laughable.’ In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of people, including British citizen Matthew Hedges, being imprisoned and allegedly badly treated at the hands of the country’s security services.

The country’s laws are also some of the strictest in the world: people can be detained for free speech-related offences, and sodomy carries a 10-year prison sentence. The Emirates also enforces the law of male guardianship, where women can effectively only work with their husband’s permission, must have a lawful excuse if they refuse to have sex with their husband, and must grant full custody of her children to her husband if she wants to divorce him and remarry. Rape victims are also often ostracised for going public.

The strict oppression of women in the UAE appears to extend to the royal family itself. Each of the Sheikh’s wives has her own separate home, and they are not encouraged to mix with each other. In some ways, the expectations of them as royals mean they have even more restricted lives than local UAE women – Latifa has alleged she had no freedom to travel, work, or even have relationships.


The Sheikh and his wives

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum

The ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates has had six wives, who between them have produced between 23 and 30 children. Of the six, two have divorced – or are in the process of divorcing – him


Sheikha Randa bint Mohammed Al-Banna

The Sheikh’s first wife, now in her 60s. She divorced him but has never been allowed to see her daughter Manal


Houria Ahmed Lamara

An Algerian-born woman with whom he had three daughters, including Latifa and Shamsa


Zoe Grigorakos

Greek-born Grigorakos is believed to have a daughter with Sheikh Mohammed


Delila Aloula

A Lebanese-born woman with whom the Sheikh is said to have four daughters


Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma al-Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammed’s senior wife, whom he married in 1979. She is the mother of 12 children, including the Crown Prince


Princess Haya bint Hussein

Has two children with Sheikh Mohammed and is in the process of divorcing him. She lives in London


‘People think, “Oh she’s just a spoilt princess,”’ says Tiina. ‘But she’s not. She’s like anyone who deserves a chance to be  free. Some people say, she had access to money and was able to do a lot of activities – like skydiving, which she loved. But that was just a distraction from her reality. She didn’t want to stay at home. She didn’t even call her home a home. She called it a house, and hated it. She was treated like a minor, and felt like she was suffocating. Her mother was also very religious, so anything like dancing or music was haram (forbidden).’

Tiina, now 43, never imagined she’d ended up befriending an Arab princess. She was born in Finland, where her parents have a flower business, and went to university in London, before moving to Dubai in 2001. She first met Latifa in 2010, after being hired as her capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) instructor. The pair slowly became friends, learning skydiving together, with Latifa going on to become a qualified instructor, with more than 2,500 jumps to her name.

‘It gave her a sense of freedom, and adrenaline, and a reason to get up in the morning,’ says Tiina. ‘All she ever wanted was a normal life. To work. To study. To travel. Our goal was to see the world. I wanted to show her my favourite country, Nepal, and she was desperate to go to Hawaii. We used to talk a lot about what we’d do after our escape. But it did take years for her to trust me fully and open up. She’d lived such a difficult life. It was like she was a prisoner in a gilded cage, with no freedom.’

When Latifa, now 34, finally shared her story with Tiina, it proved to be an unthinkable contrast to the superficially luxurious appearance of her life as an Arab princess, living in her mother’s private palace, complete with a staff of 100 and its own gym. In spite of her wealth, she hadn’t left the country in over two decades, and claims she wasn’t allowed even to visit friends’ houses. She wasn’t permitted to study – ‘her dream had been to study medicine,’ says Tiina – and unlike most of her step-siblings, no plans had been made for her or her sisters to marry, which Tiina believes is due to her and her sister Shamsa’s previous attempts to flee.

Sheikha Latifa photographed alongside former Irish president Mary Robinson in December 2018  (CREDIT: Getty)

Latifa had tried to escape once before, as a teenager, by riding into Oman on horseback. But after being captured at the border, she was imprisoned for three-and-a-half years, when she alleges she was tortured. ‘One  person would hold her, and the other would cane her feet,’ says Tiina. ‘She was given no fresh clothes, toothbrush or anything to wash with.’

Her older sister’s story is even more harrowing. It appears Princess Shamsa tried to run away from her family’s Surrey estate back in 2000, when she was just 18, after being told she wasn’t allowed to go to university. But two months later, she was found in Cambridgeshire, and taken back to Dubai. It is now 20 years since Shamsa was last seen in public.

‘She was imprisoned for eight years after the escape in Dubai,’ says Tiina. ‘She and Latifa used to be really close, but when she was released, she was never the same. Latifa always wanted to help her though. Helping Shamsa was one of her motivations to leave in 2018, because you can’t help someone else until you help yourself.’

There has been huge interest in Latifa’s case, including a BBC documentary that was broadcast in 2018. Then, last year, a third princess changed the narrative in a case that has made global headlines. Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, the sixth wife of the Sheikh and one of Latifa’s stepmothers, managed to leave Dubai in July 2019, taking her two young children with her as she went first to Germany, and then the UK. She has now filed for divorce, and is living in a London mansion with her children, while fighting for their legal custody against the Sheikh in the High Court.

Shamsa – Latifa’s sister – who also tried to escape

Unlike Princess Latifa, whose Algerian mother is considered one of the Sheikh’s ‘lower’ wives, Princess Haya has always had privileges and freedoms that many women in Dubai are denied. A princess in her own right, she was born to the late King of Jordan, and was educated at private schools Badminton and Bryanston, studied PPE at Oxford and is a renowned Olympic equestrian. She also claims she is the only woman in Jordan licensed to drive heavy trucks.

Her marriage to the Sheikh, which took place after the death of her father, was said to be a love match: they bonded over their interest in horses. It isn’t known exactly why she made the decision to leave, but it is believed that she was recently made aware of information concerning Latifa’s story, and that could have caused her to flee out of concerns for herself and her own young children. There are reporting restrictions on Haya’s court case, but it is known that she has applied for a forced marriage protection order – to protect her children from being sent to Dubai and forced into marriage – and a non-molestation order, designed to protect against violence or harassment by a partner, ex-partner or family member.

The only proof Tiina has that Latifa is alive are some photos of her taken in Dubai in late 2018 – she is with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, who is a friend of Princess Haya’s. Latifa looks confused and doesn’t seem to be aware of the photos being taken. Tiina believes that until recently, Princess Haya may have believed the Sheikh’s version – that Latifa was making up her claims. But not any more. ‘I’m obviously hoping this unfinished case will have an impact. If Haya talks about her reasons for leaving, it gives her leverage to help Latifa.’

David Haigh, a human-rights lawyer who helped Tiina create the #FreeLatifa campaign, adds, ‘We’ve spent a lot of time helping Haya and her legal team. We’re hopeful that when she’s able to talk publicly about what happened to her and her reasons for leaving, that she’ll be able to help Latifa in the way we have helped her and her family. For us this is a huge step. She’s one of the most high-profile women in the Arab world.’

Tiina Jauhiainen now campaigns for Latifa’s release  (CREDIT: Max Searl)

It is the first sign of good news that Tiina has had in the last two years. She has been living with friends in south London, without a stable job, while her life has been taken up with trying to campaign for Latifa’s freedom. ‘Anniversaries and birthdays are hard,’ she admits. ‘Nothing is happening. It’s sad. It’s changed my life completely. I’ll never give up hope. But it’s coming to a point now where I have to think about myself too.’

Tiina hasn’t suffered any repercussions from Latifa’s family, but she claims that many of her friends in Dubai were arrested and questioned during the time she was detained. One close friend, she says, was even deported. She’s now concentrating on human rights work to help other women who are oppressed in the Middle East. It’s something that she and Latifa discussed doing together after their escape, and something Latifa touched on herself in her video. ‘There’s only so much you can do when you’re trapped in a country and trapped by all these restrictions,’ says Latifa in the film. ‘I’m feeling positive about the future and I’m feeling like it’s a start of an adventure. It’s a start of me claiming my life, my freedom, freedom of choice. I don’t expect it to be easy, nothing’s easy, but I expect it to be the start of a new chapter in my life and one where I have some voice, where I don’t have to be silenced.’

Tiina now hopes that Latifa’s story will move other Arab women to speak up about the way they are treated. ‘Latifa isn’t the only one who is suffering. There are many other women in similar situations, being oppressed because of inequality, not having the choice to study or work. She’s one of those women. It’s pretty normal over there for a female to be under house arrest for rebelling. And if Latifa as a princess is treated like this, imagine how they’re treated?

Sheikh Mohammed at Ascot in June 2019  (CREDIT: Getty)

‘I hope Latifa’s story sparks a new movement. It’s time for a Me Too of no longer tolerating this kind of abuse in the Gulf. I think it’s time for women to speak out. I know it’s what Latifa would want. In her video, she says even if her escape attempt wasn’t successful,  she didn’t want it to be in vain.’

Latifa’s story has already inspired a fourth former Dubai princess – another woman once married to Sheikh Mohammed – to speak out. Randa al-Banna, from Lebanon, met the Dubai ruler in 1972 in Beirut when she was just 16. She married him shortly after and they had a daughter together. But within a matter of years she left him. She was able to divorce him but says that her ‘punishment’ was not being able to see her daughter Manal, now in her 40s. She stayed silent ever since out of fear of repercussions against herself or the children she later went on to have. But she was inspired to speak out after hearing of Shamsa and Latifa. It has been reported that she repeatedly texted the Sheikh begging him to release Latifa. He never replied.

‘First Shamsa, then Latifa, and now Randa,’ says Haigh. ‘They all have similar stories. “I was abused, I had my daughter taken off me, they threatened me, they did this and that.” And these are the ones we know about. How many more are there that we don’t?

‘It’s about time we looked beyond the façade and glitz and glamour of Dubai, and questioned what’s really going on.’

“You’re Essentially a Prisoner”: Why Do Dubai’s Princesses Keep Trying to Escape?

First Princess Latifa tried to flee by boat and almost made it to India—before being sent back. Then Princess Haya, Sheikh Mohammed’s “public wife,” refused to return from England. Now the sheikh is battling her in court over their children.

Vanessa Grigoriadis
February 20, 2020, Vanity Fair

Amid the fine horses competing in this year’s Royal Ascot, the red-coated postilions driving the Queen of England in her carriage, and the rabble in immense grandstands, one man stands in the event’s most exclusive VIP area wearing a black silk hat. Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the leader of Dubai, more often wears the traditional headscarf and white robe, or kandura, of Dubai, one of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates—but for the most important race of the season, he makes an exception.

The sheik is a progressive who bows to the laws of capitalism as well as the mosque, and so unlike the dictators of old that he writes his own poetry. “Mohammed is articulate, erudite, and suave—a Davos type,” says a businessman who has dined with him in Dubai. He’s also one of the biggest racehorse owners in the world, and friendly with the queen, who adores horses so much she rarely misses an event—and she has also, over the past 30 years, made $8 million in betting rounds.

The sheik was able to be with his friend the queen today, but someone else was absent—the sheik’s own queen of a sort, his “public wife,” Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, whose father, King Hussein, was the truly progressive leader of Jordan for decades. Haya, who at 45 is about 25 years younger than her husband, is the first Arab woman equestrian to compete in the Olympics, representing Jordan in show jumping during the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. She seemed like the perfect wife for the sheik: a paragon of the new Arabia, independent but also devoted to her man. “She was a breath of fresh air for him, because she’s not the kind of Arab girl you’re going to get anywhere else,” says a friend of Haya’s.

Educated at the University of Oxford and with highlights in her hair, she’s also the first woman in Jordan to hold a driver’s license for heavy machinery—to transport her own horses to shows. “Haya is very intelligent,” says Sven Holmberg, who served with her on the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. He says she would arrive to meetings via the sheik’s jet and donated millions toward a home in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the federation’s use—though Holmberg says he clashed with her over the use of controversial drugs in the sport, which she apparently supported more than him.

Yet Mohammed was without not only Haya today, but also any of his other wives, which have numbered at least six over the years, nor any of his reported 30 children. News was pinging around the world that Haya had fled Dubai months earlier, and, curiously, her departure seemed connected to the alleged fate of two of Sheik Mohammed’s daughters by one of his other wives. The younger of the two, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 34, had even attempted to escape Dubai in 2018 on a boat registered in the U.S. and piloted by a French American captain.

Soon, Mohammed would sue Haya in a high-profile London court for the return of their two children, 8 and 12. British papers are calling the divorce one of the highest-profile royal breakups since Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and, with Sheik Mohammed’s fortune most recently estimated at $4 billion, the most expensive separation in the history of their country.

The picture starting to come together of Sheik Mohammed was less progressive, where women are concerned, than one had imagined.

Shiekh Mohamed and Princess Haya married in 2004. (FROM ROYAL PALACE/GETTY IMAGES.)

The story of Sheik Mohammed and Haya’s parting of ways is a winding tale, full of unexpected twists and turns and the font of so many rumors that I could barely keep them straight. The Persian Gulf states are involved in an information warfare campaign at the moment—in particular, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are pitted against Qatar—and conspiracy theories in many realms abound. It’s possible to even hear impassioned explanations of how the real killers of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist, were actually Qatari spies who framed the Saudis to get back at them for the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. (And, by the way, part of why the Saudis blockaded the country was said to be jealousy over Qatar landing the 2022 World Cup.)

Theories about Haya’s departure too have come hot and heavy. Dubai is the Gulf’s shining beacon of merchant capitalism, if not democracy, with relatively open borders, a massive expat population, and fanciful real estate projects like the world’s tallest building and the world’s largest choreographed fountain system. But in the public square, some topics can be off-limits—such as Mohammed’s wives and daughters. The sheik himself has made his opinion on such loose talk known: “It is said that human scorpions dwell on the earth in the form of gossipers and conspirators, who trouble souls, destroy relationships, and subvert the spirit of communities and teams.” (Neither Sheik Mohammed nor Haya responded to requests from Vanity Fair for interviews.)

Yet in private among Arabian experts, royal-watchers, and journalists in the West, each move in Haya’s departure from Dubai has been scrutinized. If Haya’s escape has something to do with Sheik Mohammed’s daughter Latifa fleeing on the yacht, is it possible that the downside of the sheik’s monarchical prerogative may be felt through the heirs, as it is so often? The sheik needs to run his state and keep his offspring from embarrassing him, and he may do that in a strict and potentially brutal way.

Many are also questioning why Sheik Mohammed, who is known to keep close tabs on his citizens, would have allowed Haya to leave when Dubai has more surveillance than anywhere on earth, with 35,000 cameras trained on street corners. (Washington, D.C., has about 4,000.) If he had an inkling things were awry in his marriage with Haya, wouldn’t he have asked one of his ministers to monitor his wife’s digital footprint and even revoke her privileges on their (multiple) private planes?

And, in yet another theory, British papers have made much of Haya’s alleged relationship with a bodyguard. In a poem about an unnamed woman Sheik Mohammed put online around the same time that Haya disappeared, he wrote, “O you who betrayed the most precious of trust / My sorrow revealed your game.” He continued, “You loosened the reins of your horse.”

Haya and Sheik Mohammed had their first romantic spark at an equestrian event in Spain and married in 2004. “I was surprised Haya was marrying someone who was so Arab, because I always thought she’d end up with an English landowner,” says the friend of Haya. “But she was crazy about Sheik Mo—madly in love with him.” Mo loves pomp and circumstance, and Haya was a bit quirkier and more down-to-earth; she didn’t mind cracking jokes at her own expense, such as when her father gifted her a horse, named Scandal. She explained that she’d told him, “Daddy, every princess has a scandal and if you want mine to come with four legs rather than two, you’d better buy it for me.” Haya and Mohammed’s nuptials were not arranged, but before they became a couple, oil-poor Jordan was in financial distress, and these days, the UAE is reportedly one of the country’s largest investors.

Though Haya was raised in Jordan as the adored daughter of a king, the sheik’s family in Dubai ran a very different kind of monarchy. Jordan’s royal family is closer to the British model: Princes and princesses have patronage, run organizations, and are highly visible (the American-born Queen Noor, who became Haya’s stepmother after her mother, Queen Alia, died in a helicopter crash when she was a toddler, comes to mind). But Dubai’s monarchy is mostly closed and private. Sheik Mohammed married his first wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma al-Maktoum, in a five-day ceremony including 100 camel races in the 1970s; since then, she has rarely, if ever, been in a photograph seen by the public in 40 years of marriage. They have 12 children together.

Though women in Dubai are increasingly becoming business and government leaders, the Emirates also enforce the law of male guardianship, which means that husbands and fathers control the destiny of their wives and daughters. Women can only work with permission of their husbands; must have a lawful excuse for refusing to submit to sex with spouses; and any unmarried woman, Emirati or expat, who appears at a hospital pregnant in Dubai can be arrested, including a woman having a miscarriage. Perhaps most importantly for Haya, any woman who divorces her Emirati husband and seeks to remarry must grant full custody of her children to the first spouse.

I spoke with two Emirati women who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from the state. The first said she left Dubai at 18 for Europe, where she received asylum and is hoping to study as an engineer. “You can see a free woman without the hijab in the Dubai malls, but behind closed doors, you cannot know what’s happening,” she says, adding that after puberty, she was not allowed to leave her home without permission and a guardian. She explains the rationale for this thusly: “Honor is a big thing in the Arab world, and family honor is within the girl—her virginity is the family’s honor,” she says. “If that honor is gone, the reputation of the family is gone. So, the girl has to pay the price.”

The second woman is the daughter of a royal. She said she left the Emirates in her late 20s because “regardless of my age, I was treated like a child.” She adds, “Anyone who comes from the high-up royal level I come from is restricted from doing anything, culture-wise, that can annoy the public.” After beginning a covert romantic relationship with a British man, she ran to England. “I left an email in my sister’s inbox explaining everything: I hated the country, the injustice, the lack of freedom, and the Emirati men,” she told me. Her family, astonished, did not inform their community. “My family has decided to hide the fact that I left them due to our differences, and instead have been creating stories of me—studying in London, continuing my higher studies, living with a maid in an apartment (all paid for by my parents) when people ask about my disappearance,” she says. More recently, pondering her actions, this woman did ask her mother for forgiveness. Her mother responded that she felt her daughter had exposed the family to “unforgettable shame, disgrace, and dishonor.”

In the palaces of Dubai’s royal family, among Mohammed’s brood, some of the same cultural and religious ideology is prevalent. Even though princesses have high status in the country, their situation is not necessarily to be envied. “You have the fancy title of being a princess, and of course you have people waiting on you [hand and foot], but you’re essentially a prisoner,” says an Arab dissident. “You’re not supposed to socialize. You don’t have a normal life.” Though some women in Dubai’s royal family are educated abroad and have public profiles, others simply bear children, spend their monthly stipend, and remain quiet. “If you want to be in favor, you buy into what the king does. If you’re not, you’re pushed aside and nobody really cares about you—you’re not a high-profile monarchy anyway,” says a source with knowledge of Dubai’s royals.

By the time Haya became involved with Sheik Mohammed, if not before, one would think she would have known all of this, but perhaps she was too in love with Mohammed to realize the enormity of her choice in marriage. “I think Princess Haya falls into the category of the type of princess who learned that once you marry into the family, you have to play by their rules. And their rules include self-preservation at all costs,” says the source who has an understanding of the region.

But Haya must certainly have been aware that by the time they wed, something odd had already happened to one of the sheik’s daughters. In 2001, according to The Guardian, Sheik Mohammed’s daughter Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a tall, dark-eyed college student and equestrian who once ranked behind Princess Anne in a long-distance horse race, abandoned her black Range Rover near the stables at the al-Maktoum Surrey estate. When the vehicle was discovered the following morning, Sheik Mohammed boarded a helicopter from another racing area to join the hunt. Shamsa was eventually found in Cambridge, after which she was reportedly snatched by bodyguards and returned to Dubai; her father followed up by moving 80 horses off the property and firing nearly all of the estate’s staff.

When this news spilled into the press—via Shamsa hiring a London barrister and also reportedly calling British police from Dubai—there was an outcry. In London, the government opened an investigation into whether she had been taken out of the country “against her will.” But the investigation apparently languished, and Shamsa remained in Dubai, though she has not appeared in a photograph circulating on the internet or elsewhere in the intervening 18 years.

THEY LOCKED THE DOOR, BUT THE COAST GUARD THREW A STUN GRENADE. THEIR CABIN BEGAN FILLING WITH SMOKE.

This was curious on its own, but not as strange as the case of Shamsa’s younger sister Latifa. Known as a daredevil for her expert skydiving, Latifa even appeared on the cover of the local newspaper, says Jim Krane, a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute and author of City of Gold, a fascinating contemporary history of Dubai. “Latifa was portrayed as an über-princess who, like her brothers and dad, had taken on the world, doing risky things like skydiving and enjoying life,” says Krane.

In the sheik’s royal family, extreme sports were not only accepted but considered a virtue. Behind the scenes, however, Latifa claimed to have a terrible relationship with her mother and barely any relationship with Sheik Mohammed, according to Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish woman who was Latifa’s personal capoeira instructor—and who, bizarrely, became part of Latifa’s escape plan. Latifa would later speak bitterly of how she was simply one of the three daughters that the sheik named Latifa, which he’s explained means “friendly, kind, and supportive” in Arabic—and was his mother’s name too. “My mother was unique, tranquil, and gentle,” he wrote in one of his books. “My mother loved all her children deeply, but I always felt I was closest to her heart…. She ate only after we ate. She rested only after we were asleep, and she rejoiced only after our grief had dissipated.”

Yet this skydiving daughter, this Latifa, would be someone quite different.

At the highest level of Arab royalty, men often house their wives in different palaces, and this is thought to be the case with Sheik Mohammed, says Jauhiainen. “Mohammed has so many official wives and unofficial wives—all these families are separate and barely know each other,” she says. “The wives and daughters might meet at public events like weddings, where the women’s wedding is separate from the men’s. How they know each other is very much based on their social media profiles: ‘Oh, this person has a better life, this person gets to travel.’ ”

At Latifa’s family’s palace, Filipino maids satisfied her every care, says Jauhiainen. Latifa’s family even had their own leisure center with a pool, yoga room, and rooms for hairdressers and manicurists. But Latifa wanted little to do with the five-star lifestyle: She spent most of her time at the family’s stables, caring for horses and her pet monkey. She became a vegan, cooking her own curries, and said she liked animals more than humans, according to Jauhiainen.

She was also plotting something dramatic. Claiming that Shamsa had been kept under house arrest and drugged after her escape, and that Latifa herself had also been imprisoned in solitary confinement and beaten when she tried to escape to Oman and stick up for Shamsa, Latifa announced her own departure from the country.

It was a quest that was many years in the making and involved a cast of unexpected characters, including not only Jauhiainen but French former spy Hervé Jaubert, who has said he was employed in Dubai making submarines before he was accused of embezzlement—a charge he denies. Years earlier, Latifa read Jaubert’s book Escape From Dubai, in which he wrote about Sheik Mohammed with disdain—even commenting on the time the sheik was caught doping horses in a race and suspended from the sport. “…After his ban is expired, it is unlikely that Sheik Mohammed will ever run in another horse race again if he can’t have this public arena to further inflate his ego,” wrote Jaubert with a poison pen.

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya with their daughter, Al Jalila. (BY STEVE PARSONS/PA IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES.)

In his book, Jaubert was also highly sympathetic to women in Dubai, declaring, “Emirati women are tired of being married to their cousins, traded for camels, and being treated like chattel.” He explained that for his own departure from the country, he camouflaged himself as a woman, “dressed in black from head to toe with an abaya—veil, ponytail, perfume and all.” He did this for one express reason: “This was the best way to go around Dubai without being questioned or even addressed by another person. It was like being invisible.”

Jaubert’s book must have been heady reading for Latifa. And after surreptitiously corresponding with Jaubert for several years, on February 24, 2018, according to Jauhiainen, she and Latifa had a royal driver drop them off at a café where they often met for breakfast. In the bathroom, Latifa took off her black abaya, applied makeup, and put on tinted sunglasses. She also dropped her cell phone into a garbage can.

Then, Jauhiainen says, the two of them drove to the Omani border, where they met Jaubert, who would pilot the yacht, and one of his crew, who brought along Jet Skis. They rode the skis about 15 miles out to the boat. “It was very rough sea, in the middle of the ocean—just the craziest day ever,” says Jauhiainen. They planned to go to Sri Lanka, and after that, the United States. Latifa had thought about heading for the United Kingdom but was worried that her father’s connections would make it hard for the country to allow her to remain, Jauhiainen says.

This motley crew sailed for eight days, eating granola bars after finding the galley overrun with roaches. Nervously, via a slow-moving internet connection, they tried to get in touch with Western journalists who might spread word that they needed protection. They thought the satellite connection they were using, which came from the U.S., wouldn’t be penetrated. But about 30 miles off the coast of Goa, India, with Jauhiainen and Latifa below deck in their bunk, they heard gunshots. They locked the door, but the Indian coast guard threw a stun grenade. Their cabin began filling with smoke. The friends made it up the stairs to the deck, staggering from coughing so hard. Upstairs, the sky was black except for the tiny red laser dots of the guns that Indian men were pointing at them.

Lying on the deck, Latifa kept repeating, “I am seeking political asylum,” but the men wouldn’t listen. Soon an Emirate warship pulled up, and those men began to board the boat. “One of the crew members said, ‘These men are here to save us from the Indians,’ but of course that’s not what was happening,” says Jauhiainen.

Dubai reportedly had gotten in touch with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, with the alarming news that one of Sheik Mohammed’s daughters had been kidnapped. “India is dependent on UAE remittances from their citizens making money in Dubai and sending it home—there’s seven-to-one Indians to Emiratis in Dubai,” explains Jim Krane, the City of Gold author. “That’s a lot of funds coming back home. They’re eager to help Dubai where they can.”

Latifa disappeared with some of the men. Jauhiainen and the rest of the crew remained on the boat while the Indians looted it, taking electronics and even Jauhiainen’s makeup. The boat was then piloted to Dubai, where they were blindfolded, cuffed, and imprisoned, Jauhiainen says. That evening, Jauhiainen’s interrogation began: “They wanted to know who was behind this and what the ultimate goal was. They couldn’t believe I was just helping my friend who wants to be free.” She says the guards talked about Latifa as if she were a minor who didn’t know what was best for her or know the meaning of freedom. To them, she had all the freedom a woman could possibly need while living in the UAE.

It’s unclear if Jauhiainen or any of the crew would have been let out of prison if it weren’t for a clever trick of Latifa’s: Before her departure, she posed in front of a white wall next to pink drapes, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and recorded a 40-minute video explaining her problems with Dubai and the sheik. “If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing. Either I’m dead or in a very, very bad situation.” She added, “Freedom of choice is not something that we have. So when you have it, you take it for granted, and when you don’t have it, it’s very, very, special.”

Latifa comes off as smart, frustrated, and extremely rational. And between this viral video, now with more than 4 million views, and, some months later, a BBC documentary—which spurred the United Nations to request that Sheik Mohammed furnish proof of life of his daughter at once—Dubai began to feel pressure to publicly respond. (Jauhiainen was soon sprung from prison, though she says guards tried to scare her upon release, saying, “What happened to Princess Diana was not an accident.”)

In the Arab world, behind closed doors, many questioned whether Latifa was indeed arrested in the Indian Ocean; unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE is not known to often track down citizens who have left the Emirates. But reporting indicated that the story was true. “People assume the richer you are, the more freedom you have [in the Gulf region], but it’s almost the inverse—the more powerful the family, the more they can force you to return to the country,” says Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa region at Human Rights Watch.

Whether Latifa was a reliable narrator was a more persistent issue—many couldn’t believe the sheik would treat his own daughter with cruelty. “That’s not the M.O. of Arab princes, to torture their kids,” says the source with knowledge of the region. “We’re all familiar with claims of Saudi and UAE princes doing all kinds of crazy stuff in hotels in London, abusing Filipino maids, and weird things in L.A. But the families have good ways of covering that up: paying people off, dismissing people.” Sheik Mohammed had allegedly experienced the bad behavior of princes with his eldest son, who had a reputation for partying. A Wikileaks cable revealed that the son allegedly shot and killed one of the sheik’s assistants, after which Mohammed passed him over as his likely heir in favor of his younger brother. The elder son died after a heart attack at 33.

With Latifa back in Dubai yet remaining out of sight, Sheik Mohammed came under pressure—and his court thought it prudent to release a statement saying they were “aware and deeply saddened by the continued media speculation regarding Her Highness.” They were simply trying to create a “stable and happy future” for Latifa, in privacy and peace. The court also claimed the captain of the ship and others had asked for a ransom of $100 million to return Latifa; Jaubert has reportedly maintained he was only paid about $390,000 from Latifa for expenses related to her escape.

“YOU’RE ESSENTIALLY A PRISONER…. YOU DON’T HAVE A NORMAL LIFE.

The statement from the sheik’s court fanned the flames of speculation. Now everyone wanted to see Latifa, to know she was copacetic with her return or at least alive. And while Latifa and Haya reportedly barely knew each other and had met only at formal events, according to Jauhiainen, Haya, whose global reputation was utterly spotless until this point, stepped into the breach. As a U.N. Messenger of Peace, she had become friendly with Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland in the 1990s. Both Haya and Mohammed had relationships in Ireland: The sheik had invested in the Emerald Isle since the mid-’80s, and Haya trained there as a young woman. Now, Haya apparently asked Robinson, who left politics to become a respected humanitarian, to fly to Dubai and sort out the situation with Latifa, which Haya called a “family dilemma.”

It’s unclear if, before her trip to Dubai, Robinson knew she would be asked to take pictures and make a public statement. But after a day of walking through the family’s gardens and talking to them, Robinson sat down at lunch while photographers snapped shots of her with Latifa. Robinson smiled courteously, but Latifa, for her part, looked confused. Her hair was barely brushed. Her skin was pale, likely indicating she’d been indoors rather than out, and her normally lithe, athletic frame had rounded out. She wore jeans and a dark purple sweatshirt, a somewhat inappropriate costume for a formal photographed lunch. In perhaps a reflexively self-protective move, she’d zipped her sweatshirt all the way to the top.

Though Robinson had little exposure to Latifa, she explained to the press that Latifa was “troubled.” Robinson continued, “She made a video that she now regrets and she planned an escape, or what was part of a plan of escape.” Robinson said Latifa needed psychiatric care, and she was comforted that Dubai’s top family was administering this.

Now, this was quite the bit of royal theater and, in the West, considered overwhelmingly strange. “They have argued that Latifa has a mental health issue, but regardless of whether it is true, it does not excuse why she should be prevented from traveling—she should still be able to say, ‘This is the way I want to live my life,’ ” says Human Rights Watch’s Begum. “The question of mental health is beside the point, and it should not be used to deny her freedom.” In Ireland, Robinson was immediately called a stooge for the Dubai royal family—and Haya raced to her defense. On a top Irish radio program, Haya did her best to defend her friend. She said she’d called Robinson because when “faced with a situation in life that’s so profound and it’s deeply attached to your values, your family, and situations that are complex and difficult, I’ve always learned in my life to ask for counsel.” Haya added, “It is a private family matter and I don’t want to go any more deeply into it for the protection of Latifa herself, and to ensure she’s not used by anyone else.”

Even as the interviewer pressed her for more information about Latifa, Haya refused. She simply kept stressing that she was “really, really, very, very sorry that my actions have led to the criticism of a person that I so deeply respect and admire,” meaning Robinson. Haya also added, “If I thought for a second any shred of this was true,” meaning Latifa’s story about feeling oppressed, misused, and imprisoned, “I wouldn’t put up with it or stand for it.”

Several months later, Haya left Dubai.

She didn’t flee to Jordan, her home country and where her half brother Abdullah II is king, but perhaps, given Jordan’s reliance on the UAE for financial support, she felt she couldn’t put her brother in the awkward position of choosing alliances. Instead, she went to Germany, a country without strong ties to Jordan or the UAE. But for reasons that are unknown, possibly related to Germany not accepting her or her choosing to move on, Haya then left for Britain—a riskier location, given that Sheik Mohammed is a major property owner there who could make his influence felt. The Guardian reported that private Dubai channels requested that the U.K. return Haya to the UAE, though a spokesperson for the UAE embassy denied this.

Princess Haya in London, 2019. (BY CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/GETTY IMAGES.)

Given Haya’s sudden departure, it’s possible she indeed found out something about Latifa that she couldn’t “put up with or stand for.” And some, like the friend of Haya, do not believe she would have even invited Robinson to Dubai to meet Latifa unless she were forced to do so. “The whole thing with Mary Robinson was completely bizarre and out of character for Haya,” she says. “It just struck me as a very bad PR move that someone else—not Haya—came up with, and backfired.”

And yet, Haya reportedly left Dubai with so much money—almost $40 million—that others wonder if Haya and Sheik Mohammed hadn’t actually worked out their separation before she departed. In Dubai, there was some friction over the marriage: Haya wanted to open institutes and travel the world, and two sources say that Sheik Mohammed’s sons were not enthusiastic about these pursuits. As the sheik grows older, those sons gain in influence. Haya could just be an opportunist looking to leave her husband who saw an opening to gain moral high ground—by making everyone think she fled in solidarity with Latifa.

But if Haya surreptitiously worked out her separation from Sheik Mohammed, what is one to make of his next move: suing her in London for custody of their two children? Over the summer, he demanded they be returned to him in Dubai. “The question for me, and everyone else, is why did he make this application?” says David Haigh, a British lawyer who was once imprisoned for accusations of fraud in Dubai and is now working on a campaign to free Latifa. “It just seems odd that he’s putting himself up to international scrutiny. I mean, he must be so arrogant.”

Sheik Mohammed might have wanted to make it clear to the world he will not allow his wives to leave the country with his offspring without consequences. The Arab dissident characterizes his personality this way: “Mohammed has two sides to him: He wants to say, ‘I’m a hip, cool, progressive guy’ and also ‘I’m the state leader and tribal chief.’ But trying to be both a modern guy and a traditional guy at the same time just doesn’t work.”

Though Dubai still has a reputation in the U.S. as an important Gulf ally, its power has waned in recent years. Dubai does not have much oil. It is dependent on a tourist economy. In fact, neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi almost completely dominates the country today—and its leader, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is essentially the leader of the UAE.

Controlling sovereign wealth funds of $1.3 trillion, bin Zayed’s ideology is at odds with the frank capitalism of Sheik Mohammed. Bin Zayed’s agenda includes aggression against Iran, the blockade against Qatar, and stirring up the crisis in Yemen. An important voice in D.C., which his country frequently lobbies, he has been successful in securing President Trump’s endorsement of many of his positions. After Haya left Dubai, her half brother King Abdullah II needed to shore up support in the UAE—but he didn’t travel to Dubai to kiss Sheik Mohammed’s ring. Instead, he flew to Abu Dhabi, writing on Twitter, “I pray to God for a lasting friendship and love between our two brotherly countries and peoples, as it has been between our two families over the years.”

With tension between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, one might think that bin Zayed helped Haya advance her plan to leave the country. But a Dubai expert says this is unlikely: “Abu Dhabi and Dubai have a rocky relationship right now as Abu Dhabi tries to usurp Dubai’s key sectors by building up their own tourism, airlines, media, aluminum—basically anything but diamonds—and compete with Dubai directly,” he says. “But poking a hard stick into Sheik Mohammed’s love life sounds a little implausible.”

And as usual, there is little information to be had. “This is a major scandal in both Jordan and the UAE, to the point where people are not even speaking about it,” says the Arab dissident. “If you speak about it publicly, you are in trouble—in both countries.”

Today, Haya is living in a Kensington Palace Gardens mansion purchased from Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal and worth about 85 million pounds. Jordan has made Haya an envoy at its embassy, which allows her to claim diplomatic immunity and protection under the Geneva Convention, and remain in the U.K. Little more is known about what she suffered, even though a series of posts on a fake news website have included crass talk about her sex life—and even the rumor that Latifa has been killed and buried on the grounds of Sheik Mohammed’s Zabeel Palace. Jauhiainen does not think this is true. “For sure, she is imprisoned in a secret location,” she says.

Mary Robinson has refused to comment further on the matter of Latifa’s mental state and escape but made her allegiance to Haya, not Sheik Mohammed, clear in Dublin over the summer: “I really have nothing more to say about that,” she told an interviewer. “I have never been friends, except with Princess Haya, one friend, who is still my friend.”

Haya has responded to Sheik Mohammed’s suit by asking for a type of protection usually used for domestic violence victims and by requesting a forced marriage protection order for her children, even though the sheik isn’t known to force children into marriage—that’s not the way he operates. What he allegedly did to Latifa, however, is likely to be very important to Haya’s case, and, if true, could establish in court that any children of Haya returned to him in Dubai are in danger.

Haya’s friend says that she thinks Haya left Dubai to protect her own children, even though her daughter, Sheikha Jalila bint Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is “obviously Mo’s favorite.” “Here was Haya raising this very intelligent daughter who was getting to see the world through a more regular set of eyes than his other kids, and especially his other daughters,” she says. “The last thing Haya would want is for her daughter to be stuck in Dubai after leaving university, and then shunted off to marry a cousin. Haya would walk barefoot over coals for those kids.”

The friend explains that Haya’s mother’s death, when Haya was only two years old, left a large emotional scar. “When Haya had her daughter, she said, ‘I finally understood how much my mother loved me.’ ” The friend continues, “But Haya’s own daughter could never have the life that she had—live in Ireland and in France, learn to do show jumping, drive her own horse trailer around, then go and get married. It was never going to happen.”

Haigh, the attorney working on the campaign to free Latifa, says what’s important for people to understand about Dubai is “just because they have big towers and do concerts on the beach with Champagne, it is not a democracy. It is a police state run by a couple of men who are accountable to no one. And that means that, ultimately, the only one who can open the door to Latifa’s cage is her father.” Haigh talks for a bit about the experience Latifa and others had on the boat when it was seized off the coast of India. “There were six people on that boat,” he says. “We got five people off, but for Latifa, nothing works, because there’s no person in charge of Sheik Mohammed.”

This article is an expanded and updated version of an article that was originally published on November 11, 2019.

Dubai: Princess Haya’s flight to UK threatens diplomatic crisis

Wife of sheikh is said to fear kidnap after disappearances of other female royals

Owen Bowcott, Mark Hollingsworth, Bethan McKernan
July 6, 2019, The Guardian

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya at Royal Ascot in 2012.

Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein’s flight to Britain is threatening to provoke a diplomatic crisis as her husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and a key UK ally in the Gulf, faces mounting criticism over his family’s treatment of women.

The 45-year-old, a half-sister of the king of Jordan, is understood to be living in London in fear of kidnap following the alleged abductions of several close relatives.

The most notorious disappearance involved the 33-year-old Princess Latifa, Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter, who allegedly escaped Dubai before being seized off the coast of India by commandos last year and forcibly returned home. Emirati authorities dismissed the claims at the time as fiction.

In 2000, another of the sheikh’s daughters, Princess Shamsa, fled from her father’s estate near Chobham, Surrey. She was last seen in August that year on the streets of Cambridge from where she was reportedly abducted by the sheikh’s staff. Cambridgeshire police investigated the incident.

Princess Haya is said to have decided to flee Dubai after learning the full details of what happened to Latifa. On Thursday night, the BBC screened a repeat of a documentary, Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess, exploring Latifa’s fate.

A 69-year-old billionaire and racehorse owner, Sheikh Mohammed was last seen speaking to the Queen at Royal Ascot in June. Princess Haya, a keen equestrian, unusually did not appear at this year’s event.

The Queen with Sheikh Mohammed at Royal Ascot last month.

In her attempt to seek asylum in the UK, Princess Haya may be able to claim diplomatic immunity as a further layer of protection. Although she does not appear as an accredited official on the latest London diplomatic list, published early last month, she was previously registered as a Jordanian official.

Between 2011 and 2013, she was listed as Princess Haya Al-Hussein, first secretary (cultural affairs). There are suggestions she has recently been re-accredited at the Jordanian embassy. The embassy could not be contacted for comment.

Princess Haya is believed to be living in her high-security home near Kensington Palace in central London, which she bought for £85m in 2017 from the billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. She has since renovated the property which is on a private street that is home to ambassadorial residences and the super-rich.

She is believed to be under the protection of a private security firm though there are suggestions that, because of her fears of being kidnapped, a formal request has been made for police protection. Scotland Yard said it did not comment on security details.

Quest, a UK private security company owned and chaired by John Stevens, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has provided security and intelligence advice to Princess Haya for many years.

Last year Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, became a non-executive director of Quest after leaving the Metropolitan police. It is understood senior executives at the firm are aware of the crisis facing one of their most lucrative clients.

Quest first worked with Princess Haya in 2010, when it helped her in her role as president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) to set up the clean sport initiatives that formed the central plank of her FEI election manifesto.

The firm was also commissioned by Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya to conduct an investigation into the doping of horses at the Sheikh’s Godolphin stable, which was a major scandal in horse racing in 2013-14.

It is not clear whether the princess will formally be seeking a divorce from Sheikh Mohammed. She is thought to be his sixth wife.

There is a high court case involving the couple, as revealed by the Guardian this week, but the next hearing is not due to take place until 30 July.

Princess Haya is represented by Fiona Shackleton QC, who represented Prince Charles during his divorce from Princess Diana. Shackleton’s firm, Payne Hicks Beach, declined to comment.

Haya is known to be close to the British royal family. She has been pictured frequently with the Queen and Prince Charles.

The sheikh is represented by Helen Ward QC, of Stewarts Law, who has previously represented Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paloma Picasso, Guy Ritchie, Bernie Ecclestone and the Countess Spencer.

Radha Stirling, the founder and chief executive of Detained in Dubai, which supports victims of miscarriages of justice in the Gulf state, has written to Lady Shackleton offering to give expert testimony about how the justice system in the United Arab Emirates treats suspects and deals with domestic abuse.

Stirling last year raised the case of Princess Shamsa’s apparent abduction with Cambridgeshire police, asking them to reopen their investigation into her disappearance.

Stirling has also suggested a UK court could request evidence about Princess Latifa’s alleged kidnap from a yacht in the Indian Ocean and the role played by the royal family in her enforced return. Latifa herself, Stirling has suggested, could be called to testify.

News of Haya’s flight has thrown up a whirlwind of speculation. Initial reports suggested she had escaped to Germany, where she is understood to own property.

A poem, said to have been written by her aggrieved husband, appeared online accusing an unidentified woman of treason and betrayal.

The ramifications of her situation have spread around the world. The UK is a close ally of the UAE, which is heavily involved in the war in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia. Last month the court of appeal ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful.

The Foreign Office in London has declined to comment on the marriage break-up, viewing it as a private matter. There have been claims that the Dubai royal family approached the UK government for help in seeking Haya’s return. The UAE government has denied making any approaches.

The fallout is likely to embitter relations between Jordan and the UAE. In Ireland, the former president Mary Robinson has faced questions over her visit to Dubai last December, at Haya’s request, where she was photographed meeting Latifa.

Speaking to reporters at a trades union conference in Dublin on Wednesday, Robinson said: “I really have nothing more to say about that. I have never been friends, except with Princess Haya, one friend, who is still my friend.”

Sheikh Mohammed’s spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations that Princess Haya had fled to the UK, or any other aspect of the case.

Neighbours rail against sheikh as fence ‘flouts planning rules’

Will Humphries
December 13, 2018, The Times

The fence could create problems for wildlife around the Longcross estate owned by Sheikh Mohammed, who is one of the best known owners in British racing
MARK CUTHBERT/GETTY IMAGES; FRANK BARON

The ruler of Dubai has been accused of showing “cynical disregard” for planning laws by erecting a two-metre high spiked metal fence around his country estate in Surrey.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 69, who founded the Godolphin racehorse stud, was also accused of damaging the environment, putting wildlife including birds such as the rare Dartford warbler at risk.

The row centres on a security fence that has gone up around his £75 million Longcross estate, allegedly without planning permission. One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “The sheikh and his people have shown a cynical disregard for the planning laws.”

The neighbour said that the fence was totally inappropriate for the area and blocked vital wildlife corridors used by animals to travel across the countryside between Chobham Common near by and the previously open estate.

It is understood that Sheikh Mohammed, who is vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, intends to apply for retrospective planning permission.

“It is highly puzzling that he did not apply for permission before all this came to light,” the neighbour said. “The fences should be removed immediately to mitigate the damage to wildlife.”

The Longcross estate is one part of a vast property portfolio controlled by Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have a fortune in excess of £9 billion.

Before the fence was erected, the estate’s boundary was marked by a lower, wooden fence or, in some places, no fence at all. Although landowners are normally allowed to erect boundary fences, Sheikh Mohammed’s land is covered by an Article 4 direction under planning law, meaning that even minor changes must receive permission from the council.

Security at the estate was already tight, with perimeter guards, CCTV and an inner security fence. However, in 2000 even these precautions were unable to prevent Sheikha Shamsa, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, escaping from her father’s estate and making it across Chobham Common before being returned. She has not been seen since fleeing the Longcross estate at the age of 19, but is alleged to have been tracked down in Cambridge several weeks later and taken by her father’s men to Dubai.

One of her younger sisters, Sheikha Latifa, claimed in March that Sheikha Shamsa was being kept in a drugged state in the Zabeel Palace in Dubai and was like a “zombie”.

Sheikha Latifa, 33, made the claim in a video that she sent to Detained in Dubai, a human rights organisation, before saying that she, too, had recently attempted to “escape” her father.

The Emirati princess spent seven years plotting her escape from the country by sea, including learning how to scuba dive in her pool, only to be thwarted 30 miles from the coast of India, she said.

The lengths to which the princess had gone to escape her controlling father and the wealthy country that she thought of as a gilded prison were shown in a BBC documentary broadcast last week and entitled Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess. It showed Sheikha Latifa diving in an indoor swimming pool in February.

She had contacted Hervé Jaubert, a former French spy and naval officer. He had previously escaped the emirate by evading security, dressing in a burka and then scuba diving into international waters. Tiina Jauhiainen, the princess’s Finnish martial arts instructor and confidant, drove with her across the border into Oman, where they were picked up by a dinghy and then jet-skied to Mr Jaubert’s yacht. She had altered her initial plan to scuba dive to the yacht after it became clear that it would be too difficult.

After a week the vessel was raided as it sailed near the coast of Goa. The princess was dragged away by what appeared to be commandos.

She has not been seen since March but her family claim that she is “safe” in Dubai. In a statement before the documentary was broadcast, Dubai’s royal court said that it was “saddened by the media speculation”.

The government of Dubai has been contacted for comment regarding the fence at Longcross. Runnymede borough council declined to comment.