The Great Escape

Amid a rash of women fleeing oppressive families in the middle east, the case of Princess Latifa, who has tried to run away twice, has been splashed across headlines around the world. In exclusive interviews with her friends and family, Marie Claire goes behind the scenes of her last attempt and their fight to #FreeLatifa.

Abigail Haworth
February 26, 2020, Marie Claire

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the daughter of the billionaire ruler of Dubai, was careful to avoid suspicion. On the morning of February 24, 2018, the then-32-year-old modern and sporty royal instructed her driver to drop her off at a shopping mall downtown so she could meet her close friend, Finnish personal trainer Tiina Jauhiainen, for breakfast. The two women had met at the same time and place several times before in order to give the impression that this was a normal Saturday. But this particular day was far from ordinary.

Once inside the mall, Princess Latifa went to the bathroom and changed out of her black abaya into a hoodie and sweatpants. She redid her hair and makeup, put on mirrored sunglasses, and threw her cell phone into the trash and destroyed the SIM card. Then, heart hammering, she slipped out an exit to Jauhiainen’s waiting SUV, which she hoped would take her on the first leg of a journey to long-desired freedom.

About a week earlier, Princess Latifa had secretly recorded a 40-minute video documenting why she wanted to flee Dubai, a city in the dazzlingly rich United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf. With her black hair casually pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing a washed-out blue tee, Latifa talked about the abuse, torture, and imprisonment she had suffered at the hands of her family, as well as her suffocating existence behind royal palace walls. “There is no justice here,” she said in a calm tone, sitting near a window with billowing cream-colored drapes in Jauhiainen’s Dubai apartment. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.” The princess claimed that her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s 70-year-old ruler, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, was “the worst criminal you can ever imagine” and “responsible for so many people’s deaths.” She was recording her testimony as insurance to prevent a cover-up or being discredited, she explained, in case her escape failed. “If this thing kills me or I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s a video.”