The Free Latifa campaign would like to express its sympathy and solidarity with Caitlin McNamara, the director of the Hay literary festival who has reported an alleged attempted rape by an Abu Dhabi government minister. But it stresses that no-one should be surprised at this alleged attack, and it should serve as a wake-up call to the developed world about dealing with states like the UAE that enshrine misogyny in their national laws, and whose leaders act with ever increasing abhorrent impunity.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Ms NcNamara accused the 69-year-old Sheikh Nayham bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and the suspiciously titled ‘minister of tolerance’, of trying to rape her earlier this year, days before the UAE tolerance conference. The Sheikh denies the allegations.
David Haigh, co-founder of the Free Latifa campaign and a human rights lawyer appointed by Princess Latifa, said: “Unfortunately, whether the allegations are true or not, they are believable – and that is why, for all the sympathy one must have with Caitlin McNamara, no-one should be too surprised.
“We issued a statement last year warning the Hay festival, an event that promotes free speech, of dealing with a state like the United Arab Emirates which has male guardianship as part of its national laws and stamps out free speech. It is good to see the chair of the Hay festival backing her director, and saying they will not take the festival back to the United Arab Emirates. But why was it even there in the first place? Sadly, it seems the festival was somewhat naïve or dare we say it commercially driven.”
The festival took place as part of the UAE’s theme of women’s empowerment, a worthy aim by any state that truly advocates this, but one adopted by the UAE’s all male rulers who have worked out that paying lip service to a commitment to empowering women is a way of attracting positive attention and dare I say false adulation from many developed-world nations.
Last year, the UAE ran a large women’s empowerment forum to which they invited Ivanka Trump, Theresa May and other prominent women to give it credibility. It was just before that event that the Free Latifa campaign, Detained International and 60 other NGOS and human rights advocates including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued an open letter warning the Hay festival about taking their event to Abu Dhabi.
Judging by her comments to The Sunday Times, Ms McNamara was at least partly aware of the devil she was supping with. Describing the alleged attempted rape, she said: “I was scared. I know what they do to people like those princesses from Dubai who tried to escape, who they abducted and keep prisoner. This man controlled every aspect of my life out there, my flights, my visa, and I’d spent enough time there to know his power and influence.” The princesses she refers to are Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa of Dubai.
“The UAE operates under archaic local UAE laws and traditions,” Haigh added, “which has an implicit male guardianship rule. That makes all women effectively the property of their menfolk, whether fathers, brothers or husbands. It’s the complete opposite of women’s empowerment. When Shamsa sought to build her own life in Britain, she was abducted off the streets of Cambridge in 2000 by her father’s henchmen and has, we believe, been held against her will ‘back home’ ever since. And when Latifa did the same by escaping to India in 2018, her father ordered his troops to storm the boat she was on and drag her back to captivity in Dubai.
“In both those kidnappings, Sheikh Mohammed has not broken the law of the UAE. And even if Ms McNamara’s allegations against Sheikh Nayham are proved to be true, it’s certain, at least in the lawless UAE, he will never be brought to justice. As long as the UAE leaders can abuse and kidnap their wives and daughters with impunity and the male guardianship laws pertain, any women’s empowerment events organised by the state are a sham, and anyone taking part from outside – whether a former British prime minister, daughter of an American president, a former Irish president or the director of a literary festival – is supping with the devil.
“As someone who myself was raped in a Dubai jail and suffered from PTSD for years afterwards, I have every sympathy for Caitlin McNamara. What she appears to have gone through is horrendous, but my frustration lies in the fact that we and other human rights campaigners have been shouting for years for the developed world to see the reality of how UAE rulers treat their citizens, especially women. We at the Free Latifa campaign only hope this latest case forces western governments, entities, would be emigrants and holiday makers to boycott the UAE until they treat their citizens and those of the world with respect, not do business with them which is likely to end in tears.”
Tiina Jauhiainen, the best friend of Princess Latifa who was kidnapped by the UAE alongside Latifa in March 2018 and subject to Human Rights abuses by the UAE said “Having lived nearly two decades in the UAE, what happened to Caitlin doesn’t surprise me. This is one of the dangers expat women experience in the UAE. Whilst trying to be respectful and tolerant towards the local laws and culture, foreign women are subject to sexual harassment of various levels. Sadly, most cases go unreported as the victims are afraid of the inhuman local laws – feared by examples such as a Norwegian woman who was raped but got jailed for “non-marital sex.
“I hope that finally the world, and specifically companies, celebrities and even expats and holiday makers who support, emigrate too, and holiday in the UAE will finally wake up. Surely, it is time that the world sees behind the thin veneer of tolerance that the UAE pays expensive PR firms to create. The reality as I know, my friend Princess Latifa knows, her sister Princess Shamsa knows, the latest wife of the Dubai ruler Princess Haya knows, even the first wife of the ruler, Sheikha Randa Al Banna knows, each of which whose tragic stories of grave human rights abuses cover the worlds media, is that the UAE can be a living nightmare for women”
About Free Latifa
Princess Latifa stands for every person, especially every woman, who is held against their will when they have done nothing wrong. The Free Latifa Campaign is run by Latifa’s family, closest friends, supporters and advisors. It is headed by Latifa’s best friend Tiina Jauhiainen as Campaign Director, a human rights lawyer and campaigner David Haigh, Latifa’s cousin Marcus Essabri, and Latifa’s close friends Stephania Martinengo and Marco Remes. The campaign also benefits from the support of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Detained International and a growing number of Latifa’s family, supporters, media, lawyers, politicians and celebrities around the world. The campaign is about positivity and love, we have one goal, to #FreeLatifa. Updates on the campaign can be found on www.freelatifa.com
Tiina Jauhiainen and David Haigh
Campaign to Free Latifa
Telephone: + 44 (0) 203 900 1188