The UK High Court found on October 6 that Sheikh Mohammed, UAE Prime Minister and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, ordered the illegal phone-hacking of his ex-wife, Princess Haya, who is currently in hiding in London. While a relatively small amount of data was extracted from the Princess’s phone – around 256 megabytes – the stolen material likely contained highly sensitive messages relating to ongoing legal proceedings and Haya’s private life.
Phones belonging to Haya’s personal assistant, her security personnel, and members of her legal team, which included senior British legal figures, were also hacked. One of those targeted was Baroness Shakleton, a member of the UK House of Lords.
The phones were hacked using the Pegasus spyware, sold to the UAE by Israel’s NSO Group.
The phones were hacked using the Pegasus spyware, sold to the UAE by Israel’s NSO Group. Pegasus is one of the most sophisticated surveillance tools ever developed. With a single text, it can bypass a phone’s security, granting complete access to the device. Every photo, video, email, and message ever sent or received can then be accessed. Earlier this year, the bombshell revelation of Project Pegasus revealed the UAE to be one of the major purchasers of the spyware.
Princess Haya, who is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, sought refuge in the UK following her escape from Dubai in 2019. She said that she decided to flee to Britain upon learning of Sheikh Mohammed’s abduction and mistreatment of two of his daughters, Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa. This hacking scandal represents yet more damning evidence of Sheikh Mohammed’s sinister and controlling treatment of the women in his family.
[Detained in Dubai: Stories of Injustice in the Gulf – Princess Shamsa]
[Where is Latifa? Worries Grow on the Whereabouts of the Emirati Princess]
When Haya fled, she took her two children with her and, upon arrival in Britain, applied for court orders to prevent them from being returned to Dubai. Since then, she has challenged the Sheikh in the UK courts over custody – evidence of the phone hacking emerged during the case.
When Haya fled, she took her two children with her and, upon arrival in Britain, applied for court orders to prevent them from being returned to Dubai.
While Sheikh Mohammed denies all allegations against him, he has publicly expressed his hatred for Haya in the form of poems that represent an assault on language every bit as brutal as his attacks on civil liberties. Following Haya’s escape, Sheikh Mohammed published a venomous screed online, aimed squarely at Haya.
The poem, entitled “You Lived and You Died,” is a wrathful account of betrayal: “You betrayer, you betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed . . . .Your days of lying are over and it doesn’t matter what we were and what you are,” he writes. “You let the reins on your horse go free.” (The Sheikh is the world’s leading breeder of racehorses and his poems are replete with equine imagery).
“You Lived and You Died” concludes with the cringeworthy denunciation: “You no longer have any place with me/ Go to who you have been busy with/ And let this be good for you/I don’t care if you live or you die.”
When asked if the poem is as bad in Arabic as it is in translation, a source told The Daily Beast: “It’s actually worse.” The sinister tone is a reflection of both the Sheikh’s controlling treatment of his wives and daughters and the UAE’s repressive laws and appalling record on women’s rights. It would be easy to make light of this childlike behavior, but when it comes from one of the most powerful men on earth, this blatant display of narcissism and misogyny have catastrophic real-world consequences. These consequences were laid bare in the October 6 ruling. The High Court described Sheikh Mohammed’s actions as an abuse of power and a serial breach of British criminal law. It also outlined yet more details of his notoriously abusive and tyrannical behavior towards women.
The High Court described Sheikh Mohammed’s actions as an abuse of power and a serial breach of British criminal law.
The court heard that phone-hacking was also used in the widely reported kidnap and imprisonment of Princess Latifa, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, during her unsuccessful attempt to flee Dubai by boat in 2018. In videos released online without the palace’s knowledge, Latifa spoke of her capture, imprisonment in a villa, and torture. While photos of Latifa have surfaced online in recent months, appearing to show her living happily with her family in Dubai, it is alleged that she is forced to pose for these snaps and is likely under the influence of mind-altering drugs.
The court was also told of how the Sheikh used intimidation tactics against Haya, attempting to buy a property so close to her residence in London that she felt “haunted and hunted.”
As an ally of the UK, the current conservative British government will likely spare the Sheikh of his crimes this time. Britain and the UAE have close military and security ties – the UAE is a major client when it comes to UK arms sales and the British Royal Airforce makes regular use of Emirati airstrips. There are also deep business connections – some 100,000 Britons are registered residents of Dubai, where they make up a significant portion of expat professionals, and the UK economy is awash with Emirati cash and investments.
There is very little chance that the UK will take direct action against Sheikh Mohammed himself.
It is also possible that, following Brexit and the weakening of the UK’s global position, Britain will be all the more wary of making new enemies. For this reason among others, there is very little chance that the UK will take direct action against Sheikh Mohammed himself. Not only is the Sheikh a sovereign ruler, but he is an associate of the British royal family and has significant investments in horse racing in England.
However, the fact remains that UK criminal law has been broken and the scandal will cause further tensions between London and Dubai. Furthermore, targets of the hacking included senior UK officials and a member of the House of Lords, which is sure to cause great indignation among the British ruling class.
Following the judgment, the Queen of England rescinded Sheikh Mohammed’s invitation to join her in the Royal Box for this year’s Royal Ascot horse race. What happens next remains unclear but, while it is unlikely to receive any coverage in the UAE, the High court’s finding will raise serious questions over the future relationship between the two countries.