Princess Haya Bint al-Hussain, one of the wives of the ruler of Dubai, has recently fled to the UK, leaving all the luxuries of life offered by the harem of an Arab royalty. Compared to the rest of the world, it is no exaggeration to say that Arab society has changed the least, and its present social condition is very much reflective of its medieval past. If not on everything, it is at least applicable to the Arab patriarchal style of ruling, with its particular system of a seraglio, which has historically as well as contemporarily, distinguished Arab society from the rest of the world.
In 2004, Sheikh Mohammad al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, also the Prime Minister and the Vice President of UAE, married to fill his harem with his sixth wife. The young bride from the Jordanian royal family, in her 30th year, was betrothed to the much older man, almost double her age.
Now, after fifteen years of marriage and two kids, the Jordanian Princess Haya fled to the UK where she had been educated in her early years, and where she feels safer than she was with her husband. Earlier this year, the Princess had tried to seek asylum in Germany too. But she finally ended up in Central London where she has a luxurious estate of her own, and from where she is preparing a legal battle against her husband in the High Court.
While running away from a luxurious life, and reducing herself from a Queen to a fugitive is as interesting as it is disturbing. It is relevant to view this question through Jean Sasson’s book, “Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia,” that was published in 1992.
This book is an anonymous biography of a princess from the Saudi royal house and the story of a Saudi woman’s life in a highly stifling environment where women have little more importance than a breeding animal. The story of the princess is based on her real-life experiences and social and gender inequalities that women have to face in the highly conservative societies.
Princess Haya has also been fortunate to have fled as the anonymous “Princess” had, successfully escaping the tyranny of her family and the country that turns a blind eye on this patriarchal tyranny.
Before Princess Haya, two step-daughters had tried to escape from Dubai. Both failed in their attempts. Last year, Sheikh Muhammad’s daughter Sheikha Latifa tried to flee UAE by the sea with the help of a Frenchman. But she was intercepted by armed men off the coast of India before being returned to Dubai. The Emirati authorities then said that the runaway princess had been “vulnerable to exploitation” and was now safe in Dubai. But this clarification did not satisfy human rights advocates.
Sources close to Princess Haya report that she had discovered some disturbing facts behind the mysterious return to Dubai of Sheikh Latifa. Since that incident last year, the Jordanian Princess has been feeling continuous pressure from her husband and his extended family. Now, she also fears for her life and feels insecure that she could be abducted and “rendered” back to Dubai.
Another daughter of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikha Shamsa al-Maktoum, tried to flee the family’s estate in Surrey, in the UK, but she was also intercepted a few weeks later. Since the incident in 2000, nobody has seen her.
Why had these four princesses, mentioned above, tried to give up all the luxuries of life offered by the reverenced royal families of Dubai? Could it be inferred that they desire freedom from the stifling environment of a hypocritic society that explicitly discriminates against the female gender?
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