Observations of an Expat - Consequences of a Princess

Observations of an Expat: Consequences of a Princess

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Observations of an Expat - Consequences of a Princess
A composite image of Sheikhas Shamsa (left) and Latifa al-Maktoum – Photo Courtesy: The Guardian

The sad case of Dubai’s Princess Latifa threatens widespread repercussions which could impact on Dubai’s economy and relations with the West.

 By Tom Arms

The sad case of Dubai’s Princess Latifa threatens widespread repercussions which could impact on Dubai’s economy and relations with the West.

Dubai and the tri-emirate United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a key member, play an outsized role in Middle East politics. It maintains close relations with the UK and US and took the lead recently in recognizing Israel to block annexation of the West Bank. Its small but effective military has earned the UAE the sobriquet “Little Sparta.”

Arab countries—in common with other authoritarian states– hate having the human rights finger pointed at them. Domestic political considerations mean that the developed world is uncomfortable dealing with countries with questionable human rights records. The Biden Administration has been sending out vibes that the Arab world needs to improve its human rights or face consequences.

Western dependence on oil tends to protect many Arab states from Western criticism. Dubai is not an oil-rich Arab state. Its growing wealth (per capita income $32,000) is based on its position as the Arab center for tourism, financial services, information technology and trade.

The tiny emirate is recognized as a leading travel and trade gateway to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Tourism and aviation are the economic engines, contributing 38 percent of the country’s $110 billion GDP.15.8 million tourists were drawn to Dubai City in 2019. Many of them travelled to attend specific events such as the Dubai Desert Golf Classic, the tennis championship, the international film festival or the literary or jazz festivals.

The emirate was banking heavily on big visitor numbers for its 2020 World Expo. But the pandemic meant postponement of the event until October 2021 to March 2022. Of course, Dubai’s heavy reliance on tourism and travel has meant that its economy is a major covid victim and it has been forced to deplete its sovereign wealth fund. However, with $301.5 billion in assets it can withstand the current health siege.

But handling the bad PR related to Princess Latifa could be more damaging and long-lasting. The daughter of Dubai’s absolute ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum attempted to escape from her gilded cage three years ago. She was captured crossing the Indian Ocean and returned to a heavily-guarded villa in Dubai City.

For a while Latifa was able to communicate with friends via a smuggled mobile phone. A few months ago that stopped and concerns for her well-being grew exponentially. After a BBC Panorama highlighted the princess’s plight, the UN demanded proof that Latifa was still alive. So far no word from the Dubai government!

Latifa is not the only unhappy female member of the Dubai royal family. Her sister Shamsa also tried to escape. Her step-mother and the Sheikh’s second official wife, Princess Haya bint Hussein, fled first to the UK with her two children. Sheikh Al Maktoum, applied to the London courts for the return of his children. He failed, and the court ruled that the sheikh had ordered the abduction of Latifa and Shamsa “contrary to international law, international maritime law and accepted human rights norms.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the absolute ruler of a patriarchal Arab state with many of the trappings that feminists loathe. Having said that, Dubai is ranked second in women’s rights within the Arab world however, it is 120th out of 150 in the world at large. Dubai women can drive, work and own property. But these rights are largely subject to the approval of a male guardian.

Custody battles are usually decided in favor of the men and a single woman who falls pregnant is likely to be sent to prison for a year. Up until 2016, Dubai men were free to beat their wives without facing legal repercussions.

The Arab world’s treatment of its women has long been a target of Western feminists who have considerable political and economic influence. The plight of Princess Latifa has re-highlighted that treatment. Activists are quite capable of calling for a boycott of Dubai’s high-life and placing pressure on politicians. Conversely, Arab rulers would regard such pressure as interference in long-standing cultural norms and domestic affairs.

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About the Author

Tom Arms Journalist Sindh CourierTom Arms is the London-based American foreign affairs journalist. He has nearly half a century’s experience of world affairs, and has written and broadcast for American, British and Commonwealth outlets. Positions he held included foreign correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor, editor and founding CEO of an international diary news service. He is the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War,” “The Falklands Crisis” and “World Elections on File.” His new book “America: Made in Britain” is expected this year.

{The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sindh Courier}

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