December 7, 2018, The Times
A damning indictment of an unjust regime
Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and botched cover-up exposed the extrajudicial brutality at the heart of Saudi Arabia, as well as the international community’s depressing reluctance to do anything meaningful about it. If BBC Two’s recent, superb Maid in Hell documented the routine exploitation of immigrants across the Gulf States, Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess was a perfectly timed snapshot of the United Arab Emirates, whose tendrils of repression envelop even its most privileged citizens.
Jane McMullen’s documentary was a disturbing white-knuckle thriller with the bleakest of endings, documenting the growing disillusion of Latifa, the 32-year-old daughter of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The build-up to her doomed escape by sea to India was tensely documented as friends, Middle Eastern experts and Latifa herself, in a video made before her disappearance in February, painted a picture of a princess blessed — or cursed — with a degree of perspective and self-awareness.
Her sister Shamsa had made an escape bid of her own in 2000, only to be recaptured in the UK; she now, Latifa claimed, lives in the palace, drugged into insensibility. Foreign Office protests over Shamsa’s apparent kidnap were private, half-hearted and utterly ineffectual. No surprise perhaps, given the Sheikh’s formidable connections to Britain’s royals, politicians and super-rich landowners.
Latifa’s thwarted flight was related in gripping, terrible detail. Having likely had her phone tracked using Israeli spyware, she was taken at gunpoint by Indian commandos in international waters. She is, the Dubai ruler’s office stated, “safe” in Dubai and, along with her sister, “adored and cherished by their family”. Although not enough to be allowed to speak for themselves, of course.
Escape from Dubai proved a damning indictment of an antediluvian, intrinsically unjust regime that seems, like so many others in the region, to operate above the law and beneath the contempt of anyone with any respect for human rights. Those whose silence facilitates it should be ashamed.