Today I read a shocking story in the New York Times about Sheikha Latifa, a 32-year-old Emirati princess who has simply disappeared after trying, and almost succeeding, to flee. A previous attempt to escape, when she was just a teenager, had led to three years in solitary confinement, so this time, as she set sail with a friend across the Indian ocean she knew the risks were high. She had almost reached India when her father’s henchmen apprehended her and there has been little news of her since. (A detailed account of her flight is currently on Wikipedia.)
Sheikha Latifa’s story gives just a tiny glimpse of the injustices that must be taking place across the UAE–a country hardly renowned for its record on human rights. I can’t pretend to be familiar with the vastly complex politics of the country, but I do know that Dubai is a glittering destination for tourists, drawn by promises of beaches (aren’t they artificial?) and lavish shopping malls.
Latifa’s story may be a little like Jamal Khashoggi’s, a single tale whose horror captures our imaginations out of millions of other terrible injustices. When I watched her Youtube goodbye video (to be published only if something terrible happened), I was struck by her normality. She seemed totally sympathetic, and yes, just like me.
What’s additionally shocking here is that Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN somehow managed to get bamboozled (hoodwinked?) into visiting the family, being photographed with Latifa and bolstering their story. In the pics, Latifa’s face looks puffy, her eyes glazed. Robinson says that she was clearly a “troubled young woman.” What on earth does that mean? And why hadn’t Robinson investigated further before her visit? Robinson is an activist for women’s rights, and her participation in this photo-op granted approval to the Emirati royal family’s account. For someone in her position, it is a terrible gaffe.
The New York Times piece ends on a sinister note. Several of the people the journalist had been talking to became fearful and abruptly stopped responding to messages. The implication is that Latifa may now be dead. I guess that won’t stop holidaymakers from enjoying Dubai’s beaches, but I hope some people will watch Latifa’s eloquent and entirely credible testimony and think about the powers that worked against her.