Princess vs. the Emir: Haya's challenge for freedom and rights

Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s sixth and youngest wife went to court in the United Kingdom seeking custody of her children and personal protection. After fleeing the UAE, she now lives in a villa in London. Her husband wants his children back. The controversy is affecting relations between the UAE and Jordan.


Dubai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A legal battle between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over their children's welfare but also, indirectly, over women’s rights, freedoms and dignity will be heard by England's High Court in November, a judge ruled yesterday.

The court case has put the spotlight on the status of women in Arab Muslim societies, particularly in the Persian Gulf region, where women are often relegated to the margins of family and public life. The affair is also likely to strain relations between the UAE and Jordan, and their respective royals.

It all began when Jordanian-born Princess Haya, 45, decided to go against her 70-year-old husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Emir of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The princess is the emir’s sixth and youngest wives and after marrying in 2004.

The princess, a daughter of the late king Hussein of Jordan and a half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, went before the English court to obtain a restraining order on her husband, one of the richest men in the world with assets estimated at around US$ 18 billion.

The two-day preliminary hearing ended yesterday with a decision to have England's High Court hear the case starting on 11 November.

Sheltered behind her £ 85 million mansion in London, Princess Haya has applied for a UK forced marriage protection order relating to her children. The Emir wants his children back at all costs. The two children are the crux of the case rather than the divorce or maintenance.

The princess’s escape is not the first case of its kind in the UAE. Three other royal princesses tried to emigrate to enjoy greater freedom and rights.

Last year Latifa, one of the sheikh's daughters, Latifa, was forcibly repatriated after she escaped, complaining of a lack of freedom home. A few years earlier, her sister Sama went through the same experience. However, in all these cases, the young women were recaptured and brought back home, their fate unknown.

Not so for Haya. Born and raised in Jordan, she attended the best schools in the United Kingdom and graduated from Oxford. She became a role model as the modern Muslim woman and worked for the emancipation and empowerment of women in Islam.

According to several observers, the legal battle undertaken with her powerful husband could cause friction between the UAE and Jordan, particularly between the two royal families, but no one expects this to negatively affect the economic and strategic relationship between Abu Dhabi and Amman.

At present, Jordan is going through tough economic times, exacerbated by the Syrian refugee emergency. Numbering at least 630,000 according to official UN figures, the refugee population could reach 1.4 million out of a total population of around 10 million.

For Jordan’s rulers, the case is an embarrassment as well as a diplomatic headache, given the country’s reliance on UAE aid to support its economy. The issue could also prove embarrassing for the United Kingdom, since it is a major weapon supplier to the rich Gulf nation, which is entangled in the Yemen War.

For the UAE, things are not easier. Last year, it hosted a world summit on tolerance and welcomed Pope Francis on an official visit, the first ever by a pontiff to a Gulf nation. However, various associations and NGOs have repeatedly accused the country's leaders of hypocrisy for arresting and convicting human rights activists like Ahmad Mansoor and Nasser ben Ghaith.