Dubai has an escaping Princess problem, caused by domestic violence and forced marriages according to the ex-wife of Dubai’s ruler.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum has resurfaced in a smuggled video after a failed escape attempt in 2018. The princess is the daughter of billionaire United Arab Emirates and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 71.

Princess Latifa’s escape took 7 years to plan, involving the help of a Finnish dance trainer and a former French spy, falling apart in less than a week. After boarding a yacht meant to take her away from the UAE, a commando raid caught the yacht, where she was allegedly bound and tranquilised and forced to return to Dubai.

Shortly after, her family shared a picture of the Princess seated next to Mary Robinson, former Irish president and former UN human rights commissioner.

In a leaked video, the Princess claimed she was asked to join the lunch by Princess Haya, one of Sheikh Al Maktoum’s wives, without knowing who Robinson was. She also revealed that her family’s statement that she was undergoing treatment was also a lie. 

At the time, Robinson said she thought the Princess was dealing with mental troubles, but later stated that she felt tricked when pictures of the private meeting were shared. 

Nearly a year later, Princess Haya, who had hosted the lunch, fled to the United Kingdom with her children and filed for divorce. The Princess claimed that Sheikha Latifa was not the only one attempting to flee, with at least one other sister who was punished severely for making the attempt.

In self-shot videos shared with the BBC, Princess Latifa claims that she is a “hostage” and fears for her life.  

Broken ribs

Why do so many Emirati female royals try to flee, and what drives them to it? According to one royal, it’s a combination of domestic abuse and forced marriage.

Princess Latifa’s attempt was followed by Princess Haya’s successful escape to London. But they’re hardly alone. 

Lebanese-born Princess Randa Al-Banna, ex-wife of Dubai’s first ruler, reveals the harrowing details of her divorce, her only child’s suffering throughout her life.

"Sheikh Muhammad is not an easy man, he isn’t  like that, he is very stubborn. I made my decision, and now I cannot see Manal (daughter) now. I do not know how she looks. I chose to leave, so this is my punishment, not to see her," says Princess Al-Banna, speaking to the Sunday Times.

She tried to reach out to her daughter multiple times.

“I tried to enter the UAE secretly in 2005 as part of a Saudi princess’s entourage to attend Manal’s wedding, but days before my travel date, a man with a baseball bat attacked me, leaving me with a long wound requiring 27 stitches, and breaking four of my ribs. When I woke up, Sheikh Muhammad was there to express his sympathy and offer his willingness to pay for my medical expenses,” she relates.

“I was very afraid, and I asked him: What have you done?”

He allegedly replied, “Are you crazy? You are my family, I can never harm you."

Al-Banna met Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum when she was 16. After a brief courtship, they were quickly married.

Al-Banna, now in her mid sixties, only shared the sordid details after the escape of Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the sixth wife of Dubai’s ruler.

Vicious battle

Princess Haya, who fled from Dubai to London in July 2019 with her two children, would go on to get her divorce from the High Court of Justice in London.

The Princess recalled meeting Dubai’s ruler at an equestrian event, describing their connection as so intense, they understood each other “without the need for words”.

Princess Haya also expressed fears that her daughter would be subject to a forced marriage by her father, while citing domestic violence in his palace, saying that it was an unfit environment for her children. 

The court case would reveal stunning revelations, namely that Sheikh Mohammed had ordered the abduction of another daughter, Princess Shamsa, from the streets of Cambridge, United Kingdom to Dubai in 2000. She has not been heard from since.

Princess Haya also testified that Princess Latifa was forcibly returned home in 2002 and 2018. The first came after an attempted escape near the border of Oman, while the most recent involved a yacht off the coast of India. Both were placed under house arrest after their return. 

Mystery and Secrecy

After Princess Latifa’s most recent attempt at escape, Sheikh Mohammed released a statement calling the self-described former French spy Herve Joubert a “convicted criminal”, who sought to kidnap in exchange for a $100 million ransom.

Human rights organisations have tried to call on the international community to investigate the Princess’s fate, but little headway has been made against the power and connections wielded by Dubai’s ruler.

After Princess Latifa’s most recent video, the office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights stated that it would question the UAE regarding her condition.