LONDON A divorce case in London later this month featuring Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s billionaire ruler, and his runaway estranged wife is likely to cast a highly unflattering light on one of the Arab’s world richest families, according to analysts.
It also may help solve a two-decades-old mystery of how a teenage daughter of the sheikh was bundled back to the Gulf after she fled from a family home in the English countryside with plans to pursue a life independent of the Emirati royals.
The divorce case against 45-year-old Princess Haya bint al-Hussein is due to start in Britain’s high court at the end of the month. The princess is one of the Dubai ruler’s six wives and the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. She fled to London with her two children and now reportedly is hiding out with them in a $100 million home in a posh west London neighborhood on a street known as Billionaires’ Row.
The princess reportedly has requested political asylum in Britain. Britain’s interior minister has declined to confirm or deny the reports, saying it doesn’t comment on individual cases. But friends of Princess Haya told the BBC she fled Dubai “in fear of her life.”
Following her departure, her 69-year-old husband, who is also an amateur poet, posted an angry poem written in Arabic on Instagram. It was addressed to an unnamed person, but it is believed to directed at the princess, a claim Dubai authorities deny.
The poem read in part: “You betrayer, you betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed … You no longer have any place with me/ Go to who you have been busy with!/ And let this be good for you; I don’t care if you live or you die.”
Both the sheikh and his estranged wife have hired some of the highest-profile divorce lawyers money can buy in the British capital. One of the attorneys represented Prince Charles in his 1996 split from Princess Diana; another was lead counsel for movie director Guy Ritchie in his divorce from pop star Madonna.
And the London gossip columns and tabloids have been having a field day with the clash, publishing allegations that the British-educated princess, who attended a private British boarding school and Oxford University wants to marry one of her bodyguards, a Briton. A former Olympic equestrian, the first hint of trouble came earlier this year when the princess didn’t appear at Britain’s Royal Ascot horse races, which she normally attends without fail.
But the high society drama of a princess fleeing an aging Gulf potentate has serious potential political ramifications both for Britain’s relations with Dubai and could roil ties among Middle Eastern royal families. The sheikh is also the UAE prime minister.
The Jordanian royal family, including her half-brother, Jordan’s reigning monarch King Abdullah, reportedly are alarmed at the possible ramifications of the marital breakdown. Jordan relies on aid from the UAE and other Gulf countries.
The UAE is a key Middle Eastern ally for Britain, which has lucrative defense contracts with Dubai and is eager to boost business with the UAE after Britain leaves the European Union. Princess Haya enjoys good relations with Britain’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth, as does her husband, and with the younger British royals, who share her commitment to global humanitarian issues. The princess has been a U.N. messenger for various causes.
“How will the queen avoid being dragged into one of Britain’s biggest ever divorces?” Britain’s Daily Mail headlined recently.
Even more importantly and politically disruptive, the case may shed some light on what happened to two of the sheikh’s daughters, who fled in previous years, but were subsequently bundled back to Dubai.
One of Princess Haya’s stepdaughters, Princess Latifa, was seized on a yacht off India by Emirati commandos while allegedly attempting to escape Dubai in March last year.
Before she was intercepted, Princess Latifa posted a video on a social media site alleging she had suffered abuse at the hands of her father and Emirati authorities. The Emirati authorities dismissed allegations over Latifa’s treatment, claiming she was “vulnerable to exploitation” and had been kidnapped.
The UAE has refused to cooperate with a United Nations inquiry about Princess Latifa’s alleged abduction.
Rights campaigners are hoping that Princess Haya’s case, if it develops into a full-scale contested legal battle and isn’t settled privately, may also reveal some clues about a two-decades-old mystery over another one of the sheikh’s daughters, Shamsa al-Maktoum, who is now 37 years old.
That could prove more politically explosive.
Princess Shamsa ran away from the family estate in southern England in 2000. She appeared to have been seized near the English town of Cambridge and flown back to Dubai. She has not been seen in public since. The British police launched an investigation into abduction allegations but failed to reach a conclusion.
“Human rights violations, abuse, and unlawful detention are not private family matters; they are crimes; and the victims must be protected, and the witnesses need to testify about what they know,” said Radha Stirling of the campaigning group Detained in Dubai, which was founded in 2008.
“Princess Haya, in all likelihood, is both a victim and a witness; and thus we hope she will remain safe, and that she will also cooperate with international authorities,” she added. (Agencies)