The story of Dubai’s runaway princess Latifa

The New Yorker published an article about the plight of Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s Emir, Sheikh Mohammed. Latifa attempted to flee her father’s grasp in 2018, but her attempt was unsuccessful and she was apprehended off the coast of Goa.

A lengthy piece in The New Yorker, widely read throughout the world, has raised attention to the suffering of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, the daughter of Dubai’s Emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The article “The Fugitive Princesses of Dubai” by Heidi Blake tells the narrative of Latifa, her rebellion against her father, attempted escapes from Dubai, kidnapping, and capture. It portrays a bleak image of Dubai’s “espousal of gender equality” and the Emir’s modernist ambitions in doing so.
According to Blake, Latifa’s situation is similar to that of many women in Dubai’s royal family. On the outside, they appear to have “everything,” traveling in high circles in London and leading lives of richness and splendor.

“In any family, if you break the rules of your culture, it’s not going to be a great experience,” a nurse who served as Latifa’s minder for two years, told The New Yorker.

According to Blake, Latifa’s situation is similar to that of many women in Dubai’s royal family. On the outside, they appear to have “everything,” traveling in high circles in London and leading lives of richness and splendor.

Latifa was pictured in public locations in Europe in 2021, and she looks to be living in Dubai after reaching an agreement with her father. She refused to speak with The New Yorker. The story relied on older tapes of her speaking and her correspondence with her friends.


The report also details Latifa’s aunt, Bouchra, who married Sheikh Mohammed’s elder brother, three decades her senior, while she was still in her teens. She was never able to accept the restrictions of life in Dubai, and when her indiscretions became too much to bear, she was supposedly assassinated on Sheikh Mohammed’s instructions.

The story of Latifa’s escape

Latifa attempted to flee her father’s grasp for the first time in 2002 when she was still in her teens. She intended to cross into Oman and seek legal assistance to rescue her sister Shamsa, who was imprisoned at the time. When she was apprehended, she was beaten by her captors – all of whom were described as her “father’s men” by The New Yorker – and held captive for more than three years.

Latifa was not free even after she was released from her prison cell. She was constantly watched, and all of her encounters were closely observed. Undaunted, Latifa planned another escape. But she’d be better prepared this time.

She put herself through intense physical training, formed a friendship with an ex-escapee from Dubai who vowed to assist her, and devised detailed preparations.

Finally, after years of planning, Latifa and her capoeira instructor and close friend Tiina Jauhiainen attempted to depart Dubai in 2018. She journeyed in the trunk of a car to Oman, where the pair braved the elements on a rubber dinghy to board their getaway vessel, a dilapidated yacht called Nostromo.

Prior to boarding the Nostromo, Latifa made a series of recordings in which she criticized her father and accused him of a variety of crimes, including the death of Bouchra, kidnapping and incarceration of Latifa and Shamsa, and torture, among others. These videos later went viral, and they were critical in gaining global attention for Latifa’s escape.

The plan was for Latifa to travel to India and Sri Lanka, then use her forged passport to fly to the United States and request refuge. The scheme, however, was foiled. When Dubai authorities realized Latifa had escaped, they went into overdrive to find and return her. The yacht was eventually found around 50 km off the coast of Goa.

Following the discovery of the boat, “Sheikh Mohammed met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and agreed to extradite a Dubai-based arms dealer in exchange for the capture of his daughter.” According to The New Yorker, “the Indian government used boats, helicopters, and a team of armed commandos to storm Nostromo and take Latifa away.”

While Latifa was supposedly sedated and transferred to her father, her accomplices were allegedly imprisoned for about a week before being released. Jauhiainen moved to England and has continued to struggle for Latifa’s release.

Failure to hold the Sheikh to account

According to The New Yorker, Latifa’s narrative is about her attempts to escape her gilded jail as much as it is about the failure of British authorities, other countries, and worldwide organizations to hold the Sheikh accountable. The persecution of its people, in this case from inside the affluent royal family, has been ignored while Dubai and the UAE are accepted by the globe as hubs of modernity in the Middle East, according to the research.

It emphasizes that these ladies have been left hanging despite numerous requests for assistance. Shamsa contacted British officials several times after escaping and being apprehended in the early 2000s. She attempted to seek asylum and, when apprehended by Emirati operatives, managed to inform authorities that she was being “taken back to Dubai against her will.”

When Latifa’s tale gained international notice, Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, paid her a visit to “assess her condition.” Later, Robinson told the BBC that Latifa was a “vulnerable,” “troubled” lady who had “made a video that she now regrets.” Latifa, who was confined to a villa in Dubai at the time, was apparently “flattened” and “used” as a result of Robinson’s testimony.

The New Yorker article also discusses the Sheikh’s alleged sexual perversions, which include the torture and rape of several women, including minors.

Even when a 26-year-old lady reported being held captive and repeatedly raped by a member of the Dubai royal family at one of the Sheikh’s many properties in the UK, the British response was tepid, according to the report. According to the investigating officer, the Special Branch called him and indicated the problem had been resolved “government to government.”

All the while, the Sheikh continued to frequent British racetracks, including sitting in the Royal Box at Ascot with the Queen, according to the article.

A veneer of modernity

The Sheikh has worked hard to “counter the perception of the U.A.E. as a repressive autocracy”, the report says.

However, it claims that many of the “progressive” modifications are little more than “window dressing.” “Within Dubai’s ruling family, women are exalted as symbols of female advancement while privately obligated to ‘carry the honor’ for the dynasty.”

According to The New Yorker, “Behind the veil of modernity lies a deeply regressive and repressive reality, where women continue to be under male guardianship and freedom is something to enjoy within rigid boundaries laid down by powerful men.”

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