Haya ‘fled to London with her children’
Dubai’s billionaire ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has filed a suit against his sixth wife, Princess Haya, for custody of their two children in a UK court.
Haya is widely believed to be seeking political asylum in London, where she reportedly fled with her children months ago. Haya is the daughter of Jordan’s previous ruler, King Hussein, and the half-sister of current ruler King Abdullah II.
Jordan currently relies on the UAE for financial support, but relations between the two Middle Eastern countries are likely to suffer during the custody battle.
Sheikh Mohammed has taken to writing poetry, which he publishes on his official website in both Arabic and English. He describes infidelity as an ‘incurable poison’ between him and an unnamed woman, understood to be Haya, and in one poem states that he ‘does not care if she lives or dies’.
Haya is at least the third woman to flee Sheikh Mohammed’s palaces in Dubai. Two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, also attempted to flee.
Sheika Latifa attempted to escape on a yacht last year. She explained in a video that she and her sister Shamsa had been beaten, forcibly drugged, kept under intense supervision and banned from leaving the country for years.
Latifa hoped to reach the US, where she planned to seek political asylum. She made it to the Indian Ocean before she was apprehended by a team of Emirati agents, who boarded her yacht in conjunction with the Indian Coast Guard.
Business Standard reported last year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had authorised the Coast Guard operation after highly-placed government officials told him it was necessary to secure India’s counter-terrorism and strategic interests. Modi reportedly authorised the operation on the request of Dubai’s royal family.
The operation took place while India and the UAE were engaged in final negotiations over the extradition of Farooq ‘Takla’ Yasin Mansoor, who was deported on 8 March and returned to India to face trial for his role in the 1993 Mumbai bombings.
Custody battle — Haya’s hope
Princess Haya was accused of covering up Latifa’s situation with a PR stunt last year. After being kept away from the public eye for months, Latifa appeared, dazed, in pictures taken at an arranged meeting with former Irish PM and ex-United Nations human rights commissioner Mary Robinson. Robinson is Haya’s close friend.
Robinson told the BBC that Latifa regretted making the video, calling her a “troubled young woman”.
Radha Stirling, CEO of the human rights group ‘Detained in Dubai’, however, claimed that Robinson “appeared to be reciting almost verbatim from Dubai’s script.”
Meanwhile, Haya’s reputation as a UN goodwill ambassador and humanitarian suffered.
However, activists believe that this custody battle would be an excellent opportunity for Haya to speak out about Latifa’s situation on record. This would also show that Sheikh Mohammed is an abusive father, which may increase her chances of winning the custody battle.
The UAE is currently the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that does not have laws criminalising domestic violence against women. While women are often awarded custody of pre-teenaged children, their father takes them when they are older or if the woman is found to have broken sharia law.
UK courts are highly independent and impartial, making it unlikely that either party will be able to influence the proceedings. The preliminary hearings of the custody case will take place from July 30-1.