Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and close friend of the British royal family, is nothing if not conscious of his status.
He is Dubai’s emblem: modern, adventurous, closely tied to the west, with a love for the high-tech and for bling. He also has deep roots in the patriarchal, tough-minded, often charming but sometimes violent practices of the desert society from which Dubai has sprung.
Those two sides of his character met in his personal life, with his two main wives, Princess Haya of Jordan and Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum al-Maktoum. Sheikha Hind is his first, senior, and so-called dynastic wife, a cousin who has borne him 12 children. Their son Sheikh Hamdan is heir.
In keeping with the Gulf’s conservative conventions, her photograph has never been published. She lives mostly in their estate at Longcross, Surrey.
Princess Haya, young, western-oriented, and a case study in how to be a modern royal, appeared regularly at Sheikh Mohammed’s side at Ascot and other racing events. She owns her own horses.
The two formal wives were not the only women in his life. He also maintained at various times four other women, whose exact marriage status has never been made clear. All six women kept separate households, dotted around Dubai, with their own children, between 20 and 30 in total. The daughters of one woman, an Algerian believed to be named Houria Ahmed Lamara, have caused him particular grief.
It was Sheikha Shamsa who first ran away, in 1999. Her younger sister Latifa, who spent years trying to rescue Shamsa from semi-imprisonment, escaped two years ago, before being returned in the incident that led to Princess Haya’s own flight.
Sheikh Mohammed was furious about the women’s disobedience, despite the love poems he subsequently wrote to Princess Haya.
There have been glimpses of his temper before, not least in a rare meeting with foreign journalists in 2009 when he was deeply uncomfortable at being challenged over his handling of the financial crisis in the emirate.
By that time, he had also moved decisively against his eldest son, Sheikh Rashid, the previous crown prince. Sheikh Rashid is thought to have suffered a drug problem, and to have pulled a gun on, even shot, a member of staff. He was not only disinherited, his father had his villa demolished. He died, apparently broken, in 2015.