Dubai’s ruling dynasty hobnobs with our royals, shops at Harrods and sends its sons to Sandhurst. But as Sheikh Mohammed’s split with his sixth wife shows, its laws and customs can be medieval.
THE special bond between Britain and the nations of the United Arab Emirates goes back several hundred years to the lucrative trades of pearling and oil exploration upon which their vast riches would be built.
As their wealth grew, the ruling dynasties flocked to London where they would shed their traditional Arab robes and insinuate themselves into the highest echelons of British society.
From the grouse moors of Scotland to the royal enclosure at Ascot, they also often married the private-school educated daughters of fellow Middle Eastern rulers.
One such marriage was between Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan and his third wife, Queen Alia.
Princess Haya attended Badminton School near Bristol and later the £40,000 a year Bryanston School in Dorset.
She went up to Oxford University to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at St Hilda’s College and was a member of Jordan’s equestrian team at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
The couple married in 2004 in a lavish ceremony in Jordan. And this is the man Princess Haya will now face across a courtroom in London next month as the warring couple embark on what looks set to be the most fiercely contested and costliest divorce settlement in British history, given his estimated £9billion fortune.
Princess Haya reportedly fled Dubai with her two children – and a £31million fortune – after discovering “disturbing facts” about her stepdaughter Princess Latifa, 33.
She travelled to Germany in May before moving to London, where she is said to be holed up in her £85million mansion on “Billionaire’s Row” near Kensington Palace.
She has applied for a “non-molestation” protection order against her husband and is said to “fear for her life”.
She has hired Royal favourite lawyer Fiona Shackleton, dubbed the “Steel Magnolia” after she secured Prince Charles’ divorce settlement from Princess Diana.
The Sheikh’s lawyer is Helen Ward, known as the “Grande Dame of Divorce”, who represented Guy Ritchie in his split from Madonna and Cheryl Cole in her divorce from Ashley Cole.
While the proceedings will be mostly secret, both parties have taken to social media to get their message across. The Sheikh has posted about “shining swords with sharp blades that can cut if drawn”, while his wife’s brother, Prince Ali, posted a picture of himself hugging Haya, “the apple of his eye”, who is wearing a Jordanian flag.
But many say that this most Western of wives, who appeared at early hearings in the High Court last week in immaculate dresses and expensive vertiginous heels, was always doomed to fall foul of Dubai’s regime.
A former professional show jumper with a penchant for Chanel and Jilly Cooper novels, she is said to have struggled to come to terms with the death of her mother in a helicopter crash when she was three.
“I’m one of those people who put things in boxes if it hurts too much, and I put the box away,” she said in 2017. “I’ve been telling myself for the past 40 years that I will deal with it at some point.” Her Sandhurst-educated husband has wed six times, but Princess Haya is undoubtedly his most glamorous wife.
Early interviews gave a foretaste of her feisty character, signs her very traditional husband may have overlooked at his peril.
“He was able to put up with a bunch of trouble and a bundle of energy who wasn’t particularly conventional, and I was eternally grateful,” recalled Princess Haya.
“When I met a man whom I knew was my life partner and whom I was in love with – who cared about me and saw the real me – I had no doubts,” she added when asked about her decision to marry a polygamist 25 years her senior.
But now their divorce and custody hearings threaten to embarrass our Queen, cause diplomatic difficulties and highlight the clash of cultures between East andWest.
Both Princess Haya and her husband are friends of our Royal Family, which places Her Majesty in an invidious position.
The Princess met the Queen privately for tea at Windsor Castle during May’s Royal Windsor Horse Show while her husband joined her for tea during Royal Ascot. As Princess Haya seeks political asylum here, their split will shine a spotlight on the conflict between British legislation, in which men and women are deemed equal, and the United Arab Emirates, where women from the ruling classes can lavish their wealth on penthouses and designer baubles, but still find themselves subject to an unforgiving interpretation of Islamic law.
The break up comes in the wake of an attempt by Haya’s stepdaughter Princess Latifa to escape Dubai last year. She was reportedly caught while fleeing to India, and is now alleged by friends to be held captive.
David Haigh, a human rights lawyer who has been leading the campaign to free Latifa, said: “I lived in Dubai for ten years. I was in a relationship with a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal family and saw the clash of cultures. There is a big issue here. Under Sharia law the kids stay with their father but in Britain the mother has been seen to have more rights or the rights are equal. Haya is going to need to prove to the courts that her kids are in danger. Otherwise he might win custody. “The development of the city and the façade has gone at rocket pace, but the legal system hasn’t caught up since medieval times. You are dealing with a legal system which still says, as long as you don’t show any damage, it’s OK to hit your wife.”
Haigh represented Ellie Holman, a dentist from Sevenoaks, Kent, who was arrested after drinking one glass of wine on her eighthour flight to Dubai.
“She had been given a drink by Emirates Airlines but when she landed she was questioned by a chauvinistic immigration officer, who locked up her – and her four-year-old child – for being drunk,” says Haigh.
“The airport is one of the biggest in the world, but the Dubai law is criminalising tens of thousands of people the moment they land, unbeknown to them.”
Ironically, it was Sheikh Maktoum who ordered Ellie’s release and insisted authorities dropped the case of a man arrested after touching another man in a bar.
Nonetheless, he adheres to the ancient practice of polygamy (according to Sharia law, a man can have up to four marriages at a time).
Tiina Jauhiainen, who became Princess Latifa’s best friend after teaching her the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, believes Haya’s flight can only “strengthen Latifa’s case”.
“It just makes her story more believable,” she added. “People are now seeing her story through different eyes.We are hoping we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I lived in Dubai for 17 years. I saw so many Western women marrying Gulf Arabic men. Suddenly you see them walking around covering themselves fully.
“Women don’t think of the consequences when they have children.
“At the end of the day it’s Islamic law. The children actually belong to their father. But women don’t see that at the beginning.They just see the luxury lifestyle.”
But it is a life of luxury which can come with a hidden price, one that fewer women, whether Arab or Western, seem willing to pay.
Article Source The Express