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Science | Geography | Citizenship

Fears grow for kidnapped princess’s safety

Does the liberal West have a right to condemn Dubai? A BBC exposé about the plight of Princess Latifa has triggered a worldwide outcry against her father’s tyrannical behaviour. Princess Latifa thought she was safe. So far, her plan to escape Dubai by yacht had gone smoothly. The boat was fast approaching India; from there it would be relatively easy to reach the US, where she hoped to claim political asylum. Then, suddenly, came the sound of a violent disturbance on the upper deck. The yacht was being boarded by commandos. Latifa, then 32, fought for all she was worth, kicking her abductors and biting one until he screamed – but to no avail. She was injected with a tranquilliser and taken to a rendezvous with a private jet. When she woke up, she was back in Dubai, held prisoner in a villa with barred windows and doors, guarded by police. That was in February 2018. This Tuesday, details of her captivity were revealed in a documentary that included videos made on a phone she had secretly been given. The friends who released the videos said that they had heard nothing from her in recent months, and feared for her safety. There is no question about who was responsible for her kidnapping: Latifa’s father. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, and one of the richest heads of state in the world. It was not the first time Latifa had tried to escape Dubai. In a video from 2018, she claimed that she had been imprisoned for over three years and subjected to physical abuse after a failed attempt in 2002. “I'm not allowed to drive, I'm not allowed to travel or leave Dubai at all,” she said. Nor is she the only member of the family to have suffered in this way. In 2000, her sister Princess Shamsa – then aged 19 – fled from a family estate in Surrey, only to be kidnapped in Cambridgeshire by the sheikh’s agents and forced to return to Dubai. Details of the sheikh’s terrifying grip on his family emerged in 2019 after Latifa’s stepmother, Princess Haya fled to Britain with her two children and fought successfully for custody of them in a London court. The court accepted her evidence that Latifa and Shamsa had been abducted, and ruled that the sheikh “continues to maintain a regime whereby both these two young women are deprived of their liberty”. It also accepted that Princess Haya had received numerous threats after having an affair with a bodyguard. On one occasion a pistol had been left on her pillow; on another, the sheikh had told her: “You and the children will never be safe in England.” The official story from the palace is that Latifa is bipolar and has been held in confinement for her own safety, while the friends who helped her try to escape were out to extort money. The one foreigner who has seen her since – Ireland’s former president Mary Robinson – did not raise any concerns. But Robinson now says that she was duped. And the fact that Sheikh Mohammed set out to use such a distinguished international figure as a pawn in his game proves, in many people’s eyes, that he is prepared to stop at nothing. Does the liberal West have a right to condemn Dubai? Rattling a sheikh Some say, no. It has long been clear that Dubai has no respect for human rights, yet Westerners flock to its hotels and cheer the sheikh’s racehorses, while their governments compete for investment and arms deals. They cannot speak out now without deep hypocrisy. And in Britain, there are also families who try to control young women’s lives and sometimes murder them for seeking freedom. Others argue that if Sheikh Mohammed goes uncriticised, we are accepting that rich and powerful people are above the law. How would we feel if the Queen kidnapped Prince Harry and Meghan? The sheikh’s appalling treatment of his own family is only part of it: Dubai has been built by labourers working in terrible conditions, and the UAE has often been accused of channelling funds to terrorists. KeywordsUnited Arab Emirates - A country in the Middle East, and the location of Dubai.

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