With scandal after scandal, the eyes of the world are fixed on the UAE like never before. The spotlight is particularly focused on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
Following the recent escape of Princess Haya, half-sister of the King of Jordan and one of Sheikh Mohammed’s six wives, and the widely publicized escape attempt of his daughter Princess Latifa last year, the reputation of the Dubai ruler and his regime may have been damaged beyond repair.
August brought more embarrassment for Sheikh Mohammed when a letter, written by his daughter Shamsa resurfaced. Princess Shamsa was the first of the Sheikh’s daughters to attempt to escape, fleeing during a holiday on the family’s sprawling estate in Surrey, UK, in the year 2000. By all accounts, Shamsa simply could not bear the strain of the luxurious yet stifling existence she led with her family in Dubai. It is claimed that Shamsa’s mother, Houria, knew of her escape plans ahead of time.
Shamsa, now 37, has allegedly been subjected to prison-like treatment since being recaptured, with many sources, including her sister Latifa, saying that the family sedates her with heavy drugs to subdue her desire and ability to escape.
Shamsa, now 37, has allegedly been subjected to prison-like treatment since being recaptured, with many sources, including her sister Latifa, saying that the family sedates her with heavy drugs to subdue her desire and ability to escape. Many fear that a similar fate has befallen Latifa herself—she was recaptured last year after escaping Dubai with the aid of former French spy Hervé Jaubert. While Latifa appeared on camera months after being brought home, Shamsa has not been seen in public for 20 years. Latifa claims that both she and Shamsa were held prisoner after both had tried to escape on various occasions.
The letter, addressed to Shamsa’s cousin Essabri, was penned on September 16, 1999, less than a year before her escape attempt. In it, Shamsa wrote: “I was thinking of running away. I know that won’t solve any of my problems—that’s why I considered talking to my mother again. But now I’ve realized that I’m still not fulfilled!” It is clear that the princess had decided to escape without outside influence, her desire to be free based on how her situation stifled her ability to live as her authentic self. “Don’t worry, you’re not giving me ideas and you’re not encouraging me to do anything,” she wrote. “All I’m saying is that I’ve made up my mind and there’s nothing left for me to do here.”
Essabri, Shamsa’s cousin and the recipient of the letter, said that the then-teenage princess was angry that her father, Sheikh Mohammed, had told her that she would not be allowed to attend university. He also claims that he spoke to Shamsa on the phone two weeks before she sent him the letter. Essabri says that, during that conversation, Shamsa confided in him her unhappiness and her plans to escape the control of her family. He says the princess also spoke of suicide.
Essabri claims he spoke to Shamsa’s mother, asking for the restrictions on the princess to be loosened, and that he encouraged Shamsa not to do anything rash. Following this, he claims his allowances were cut and his name was taken off certain deeds.
Essabri, who lived with Shamsa and Latifa when they were children, told Australia’s 60 minutes program, which aired on July 22, that he believed the pair are currently in danger. Some, including Hervé Jaubert, the former spy who aided Latifa’s attempted escape, fear the princesses may be dead.
Speaking scathingly of the UAE, Essabri said: “There’s no freedom. If I had stayed there, if I had been kept there, I don’t think I could have survived.”
While Shamsa’s fate remains unknown, what is certain is that the stories of injustice relating to this particular Gulf emirate are increasing as new evidence comes to light and more women try to flee the repression. In the meantime, Dubai’s reputation and image continue to diminish on the world stage.