“The Runaway Princesses,” a New Yorker Podcast, Exposes the Plight of Dubai’s Royal Women

A four-episode narrative series, from In the Dark, examines why the daughters of the emirate’s ruler have risked their lives to run away.

By The New Yorker
January 23, 2024

The leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is one of the richest men in the world and has been celebrated for modernizing the United Arab Emirates. Publicly, he advocates for gender equality and has pledged to “remove all the hurdles that women face.” But, for his daughter Latifa, Dubai was a “prison,” an opulent cage where she and other royal women were subjected to harsh punishment for disobedience.

Over several years, Latifa devised a secret plan to flee the country by sea, training in extreme sports and smuggling cash to co-conspirators. But in February, 2018, as Latifa attempted the escape, commandos stormed the yacht that she had chartered to take her to international waters, and carried Latifa away. The princess has called her father a “major criminal” who is responsible for torturing women who have sought to evade his control. (Sheikh Mohammed has denied any wrongdoing.)

In “The Runaway Princesses,” a four-part narrative audio series, the New Yorker staff writer Heidi Blake tells the story of Latifa and other royal women who have defied one of the world’s most powerful men. Why did these women, born into unbelievable luxury, risk their lives to flee? And what has happened to them since? Drawing on thousands of pages of secret correspondence and never-before-heard recordings, “The Runaway Princesses”—The New Yorker’s first narrative-audio release—takes listeners from the palaces of Dubai to the streets of London in a tale of startling courage and cruelty.

“The Runaway Princesses” draws on Blake’s previous investigative work for The New Yorker, transforming sweeping print reporting into a rich audio exposé. Blake published an in-depth examination of the princesses’ story in May, 2023, and, last month, updated readers on what is known about Latifa’s condition. Blake has also written about the four royal sisters allegedly imprisoned by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The new audio series, which is produced by The New Yorker and Condé Nast, offers listeners an astonishing and immersive story, with chilling revelations about the collusion of Western governments in the brutality of Sheikh Mohammed.

“The Runaway Princesses” is hosted by Madeleine Baran, the lead reporter of the award-winning investigative-journalism podcast In the Dark, and is produced by Catherine Winter. Baran, Winter, and the In the Dark team joined The New Yorker in 2023, when Condé Nast acquired the program. In the Dark had previously released two highly acclaimed seasons. The third season, which is currently in production, is expected out later this year. Led by Baran and Samara Freemark, the managing producer, In the Dark has received two Peabody Awards, and was the first podcast, in 2019, to win a George Polk Award.

Blake, who joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2022, previously wrote for the Sunday Times of London and BuzzFeed News, where she was the global-investigations editor. Her work has won more than twenty national and international media awards, and she was a Pulitzer finalist in 2018. She is the author of “From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West” and a co-author of “The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup.”