Princesses locked in towers by tyrannical fathers with no way of reaching the outside world may appear to be makings of fairy tales, but for princesses of the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE), this is all too commonly a reality. Far from waiting longingly for Prince Charming to save them from their sorry state, these women are being imprisoned, tortured, abducted and executed for trying to flee from the dictatorships of their own families and their prophesized lineage. 

Described by missing UAE Princess of Dubai, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, as living life in a gilded cage, the daughters of some of the world’s richest and most powerful men are brought up in lives of luxury, from skiing trips and tropical holidays, to lavish shopping sprees and designer goods. The illusion of the seemingly free, opulent lives they lead ends abruptly once the women, often very well educated, reach their teenage years. At the age most young women are experiencing their first taste of independence, marriages are being arranged, and autonomy withdrawn for these daughters of royalty. 

In a chilling video declaration made by Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum before her infiltrated escape attempt, Latifa mentions her 30 siblings, including three full siblings and two half-sisters with the same name. Her older full sister, Shamsa, she claims, lives “drugged and monitored, day and night” in their palace, following her own bid for freedom, which resulted in her capture in Cambridge, UK in 2000. Shamsa has not been seen in public since, and Latifa and her siblings, the children of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE, live a “very restricted life” in which their every action is reported back to their father’s office via their drivers and staff. 

“I hope this video gets deleted and we’re all okay,” states Latifa towards the end of the 40-minute long video. “My father is the worst criminal you can ever imagine in your life. He doesn’t care. They’re not going to take me back alive.” 

Latifa claims she previously tried to escape in 2000, before she had access to the internet, but was captured at the border and spent three years and four months in prison. Whilst this can’t be verified, her accounts of torture whilst in prison, including being exposed to or withdrawn from light for days on end, and being starved and beaten, correlate with others who have suffered a similar fate at the hands of the UAE regime. 

Ending the video, seemingly filmed by herself, Latifa calls her father a “pathetic, pathetic human who doesn’t scare me” and assures that her escape attempt, which has been two decades in the making, will either end with her freedom or her “not making it out alive”. Either way, she says, the video will go some way to tell her story and the story of her sister. 

Latifa hasn’t been seen since, apart from appearing in three low-resolution images, which were released in December 2018, showing Latifa sat beside former Irish President Mary Robinson in a meeting allegedly arranged by one of her father’s wives, Princess Haya. Her family claim she is ‘troubled’ and ‘mentally unwell’ – a message reiterated by Mary Robinson, following her meeting with Latifa, which received outcry from Human Rights groups.

Despite her alleged involvement in arranging the meeting with Mary Robinson to portray Latifa as safe and content in the media, Princess Haya, the sixth wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has now also fled the UAE regime, after it emerged on 3rd June 2019 that she was seeking asylum in London, England. According to a BBC report, Princess Haya, 45 – who married the Sheikh, 69, in 2004, becoming his “junior wife” – initially fled to Germany to seek asylum, but has been staying in their London mansion whilst preparing for a legal battle at the high court in the UK. The Princess is thought to have “uncovered disturbing facts” about Princess Latifa’s return, and has fled her husband for fear of her life. 

Tiina Jauhiainen, Latifa’s close friend and personal trainer, helped plan her escape, and fled Dubai with her, travelling by jetski to a yacht which awaited them to travel to India before its interception by Indian commando forces. Speaking to InsideOver, she urged readers to post under the hashtag #FreeLatifa and to visit their website, which aims to raise awareness of the Princess’ capture. “There is a petition on the website which readers can sign and share to join in the campaign for Latifa’s freedom,” Tiina added. “Readers can also follow and support the campaign on social media, where we post updates on Latifa’s capture.” 

Haya, Latifa and Shamsa aren’t the only women to suffer at the hands of their elite families; Princess Mishaal bint Fahd al Saud, daughter of Fahd bin Muhammed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a former governor of Saudi Arabia was executed on her grandfather’s orders at the age of 19 in 1977, for engaging in a relationship with Khaled al-Sha’er Mulhallal, then Saudi ambassador in Lebanon, who was beheaded by one of the Princesses male relatives after Mishaal’s execution. 

Princess Alanoud Al Fayez was married to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the age of 15. She escaped in 2001, after the King had divorced her for only having daughters, and seized the passports of her three daughters without her knowing. She fled to London where she was granted asylum. 

On April 11 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom, also of Saudi Arabia, was captured and detained at Manila Airport in the Philippines, after trying to reach Australia to seek asylum. She posted a video on Twitter claiming that she would be killed upon her return to Saudi. She has not been seen since, and is believed to be in a Saudi women’s prison, released to male guardians, or deceased.

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