Checking in on Princess Haya

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Last autumn was a crazy time for the House of Windsor, so an update on Princess Haya that I had planned for November fell through the cracks. Now that the dust has settled on Sussexit, let’s catch up on where we left off. As background for those new to this issue, Princess Haya is the estranged wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. She “fled” Dubai for Europe over the summer and has subsequently settled in London with the couple’s two children where she’s now fighting for custody and other protections.

We don’t know what exactly prompted her sudden departure, however her lawyers filed a forced marriage protection order for one of her children in August, so that may offer some illumination. Of note, Haya is the sister to King Abdullah II of Jordan, and has a personal relationship to members of the British Royal Family, a position that not only complicates her situation, but also likely sets her up for better success than other female relations of Maktoum.

Two of Haya’s stepdaughters have attempted to flee Dubai and been forcibly returned. It’s unclear where either now is, or if they’re still alive. Accusations of abduction and torture swirl about both incidents.

Haya appeared in public in November for another hearing related to the children’s custody case. We don’t know what was covered, or if there are any significant updates to the case’s status. Indeed, all we know is that once again Maktoum failed to appear, as he has for all three court dates thus far, despite occasionally being in England at the same time.

Traditional news reporting of the issue has died down since the summer, which I imagine will stay true until there’s a major development. In the interim, various other publications are writing longer pieces discussing how and why Haya is now the third royal woman in Dubai seeking legal help, which, frankly, yes, it’s about time. The most high-profile of these pieces ran in Vanity Fair, excerpts of which I’m pulling out below.

An interesting point about the nature of the UAE’s monarchy:

Haya may have been raised in the royal family in Jordan, but Dubai is a very different kind of monarchy. Jordan’s royal family runs more on the British model: the princes and princesses have patronage, run organizations, and are highly visible (the American-born Queen Noor, who became Haya’s stepmother after Haya’s mother died in a helicopter crash when she was two, comes to mind). But Dubai’s monarchy is mostly closed and private. Sheikh Mohammed’s first wife, Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma al-Maktoum, with whom he has 12 children, has rarely, if ever, been in a photograph seen by the public in 40 years of marriage.

Re: women’s rights:

Though women in Dubai are increasingly becoming business and governmental leaders, the Emirates also enforces the law of male guardianship, which means that husbands and fathers control the destiny of their daughters and wives. Women can only work with permission of their husbands; must have a lawful excuse for any refusal to submit to sex with their husbands; and any unmarried woman, Emirati or expat, who appears at a hospital pregnant in Dubai can be arrested, including a woman having a miscarriage. Perhaps most importantly for Haya, any woman who divorces her Emirati husband and seeks to remarry must grant full custody of her children to her first spouse.

Re: life behind palace gates:

At the highest level of Arab royalty, men often house their wives in different palaces, and this is thought to be the case with Sheikh Mohammed, says Jauhianinen. “Mohammed has so many official wives and unofficial wives—all these families are separate and barely know each other,” she says. “The wives and daughters might meet at public events like weddings, where the women’s wedding is separate from the men’s. How they know each other is very much based on their social media profiles: ‘Oh, this person has a better life, this person gets to travel.’”

Re: Haya’s European flight:

She didn’t flee to her home country Jordan, but perhaps, given Jordan’s reliance on the UAE for financial support, she felt she couldn’t put her brother, the current king, in a sticky position. Instead, she went to Germany, which she likely considered the most independent Western country in Europe, without strong ties to Jordan or the UAE.

But for reasons that are unknown, either possibly related to Germany not accepting her or her choosing to move on, Haya then left for London, a far riskier place for her to be. Sheikh Mohammed owns so much property in Britain that he could make his influence felt there.

Re: the possible connection to Princess Latifah (one of Haya’s two missing stepdaughters):

Most experts think that it’s possible Sheikh Mohammed is suing Haya in London to make it clear to the world that he will not allow his wives to leave the country with his offspring without consequences. Haya has responded to Sheikh Mohammed’s suit by reportedly asking for a type of protection usually used for domestic violence victims and by requesting a forced marriage protection order for her children, even though the sheikh isn’t known to force children into marriage—that’s not the way he operates. What he allegedly did to Latifa, however, is likely to be very important to the case, and, if true, could establish that any children returned to him in Dubai are in danger.

There’s considerable background on the cases of the missing princesses in the article, so I recommend reading the full piece here. If and when there are any updates to the situation, I’ll make sure to get another post up.

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