Updated: February 24, 2021 12:56:52 pm
In videos that were published by the BBC on Tuesday, Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler, has alleged kidnapping. She claims she is being kept hostage by her father in a villa converted into a jail, and adds she has no access to medical aid. Latifa alleges she is in “solitary confinement” without any trial or charges against her.
An investigation led by the BBC revealed the videos, which were apparently recorded in a bathroom, were taken over the course of several months on a phone Latifa was given about a year after she returned to Dubai in 2018. In the videos, Latifa speaks of how she tried to fight back against commandos when she was being captured and that she was “tranquilised”. She says since her return to Dubai, she has been held alone without any medical or legal aid.
Latifa’s account of her capture and subsequent detention was revealed by her friend Tiina Jauhianen, her cousin Marcus Essabri and campaigner David Haigh. They are all part of a campaign called ‘Free Latifa’.
Since they were published, the videos have led to a call for an investigation into the matter by the United Nations (UN), which has responded to these demands affirmatively saying it will raise the matter with the UAE.
Who is Princess Latifa?
Princess Latifa, or Latifa bint Mohammed al-Makhtoum, is the daughter of Dubai’s billionaire ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum who is credited for transforming Dubai into one of the foremost destinations for business and tourism. Sheikh Mohammed, also the President and Vice-President of the UAE, was partly educated in England, maintains an acquaintance with Queen Elizabeth and founded the Godolphin racing stable.
Latifa’s mother, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, married al-Maktoum in 2004 and is his second “official wife”. The ruler reportedly has a number of unofficial wives with whom he has had at least 25 children.
Latifa was born in 1984. As per the ‘Free Latifa’ campaign, the princess tried to escape from the family residence in Dubai in 2002. She was 16 at the time. She was, however, easily tracked and brought back to the palace where she was allegedly detained by her father for over three years, the campaign says.
Latifa made a second attempt to escape in February 2018, when she met up with her friend Jauhianen at a coffee shop in Dubai. She and Jauhianen drove out of town and managed to cross the border into Oman. From there, she got on a boat and sailed into international waters. However, she was held just off the coast of Goa in India by a “significant Indian and UAE military force”, and taken back to Dubai again.
The allegations against UAE’s ruler proven in court
After the ruler’s wife Princess Haya fled to the UK in 2019 with two of their children, Sheikh Mohammed commenced proceedings in England and Wales under the jurisdiction of the London High Court seeking orders that his two children — Sheikha Al Jalila bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who was born in 2007, and Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who was born in 2012 — return to Dubai. The rulings of these proceedings were released by the court in March 2020 and mentioned some of the key allegations made by the mother.
Princess Haya claimed the ruler ordered and orchestrated the unlawful abduction of his daughter Princess Shamsa in 2000 from the UK to Dubai; and that the ruler, on two occasions in June 2002 and February 2018, ordered and orchestrated the forcible return of his daughter Latifa to the family home in Dubai. In 2002, the return was from the border of Dubai with Oman, and in 2018 it was by an armed commando assault at sea near the coast of India, she said.
“At the conclusion of the fact-finding judgment I found each of the mother’s core allegations, save for an assertion related to forced marriage, proved,” the judge stated.
Sheikh Mohammed’s response to this court ruling has been that it tells only one side of the story. He insisted that the case was a private matter. According to a report in the Financial Times, the judgment is unlikely to change the perception of the ruler in the UAE as the case has not been covered by the media in the country which is “a conservative and patriarchal society where public discussion of the ruling families’ private lives is frowned upon”.
What is the structure of Dubai’s political system?
The UAE is a federation of states or emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi (capital city), Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah. The country is a constitutional federation, which means its political system is based on UAE’s Constitution.
The highest authority of the country is the Supreme Council, which comprises seven emirates’ rulers. Rashid al-Maktoum is one of them. This council of rulers elects the President of the Federation for a renewable term of five years. In addition to this council, there is a 40-member parliament, known as the Federal National Council (FNC).
The year 2006 saw a breakthrough attempt to change the political system when it was decided that individual rulers would select an electoral college, whose members would elect half of the FNC. The other half is appointed by the ruler of each emirate.
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