Exclusive beach clubs, luxurious malls and a skyline of skyscrapers – Dubai likes to present itself as a modern and cosmopolitan city. However, in the past week, new reports about the kidnapped Princess Latifa, daughter of the Emir of Dubai, scratched the golden image of the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And they have given new urgency to the case of the young woman who tried to escape from the glittering cage.
The British broadcaster BBC showed a previously unpublished video of the missing woman. “I am a hostage and this villa has been turned into a prison,” says the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum, who also serves as Prime Minister of the Emirates. The UN human rights office then demanded a sign of life from the woman. Latifa will be cared for by her family and medical staff at home, the ruling family said. However, she did not provide videos or photos as proof that Latifa is alive.
Sheikh had daughters kidnapped
The now 35-year-old is probably the most prominent example of the downside of the Emirates. A London court had her father responsible for the kidnapping of Latifa and her older sister Shamsa and the intimidation of one of his wives last year. In one case, the court even found torture. Shamsa should also still be held.
Böhmermann exposes influencer censorship
It’s been three years since the princess tried to flee Dubai. She tried to leave the country by rubber dinghy and yacht until she was finally stopped by a special force off the Indian coast and brought back forcibly, according to supporters of Latifas. Since then, Latifa has reported in videos how she was being held and threatened without fresh air, access to the outside world or medical care.
Nevertheless, the country is doing a lot to polish its reputation: Latifa’s father is driving the space program forward at a high speed. The first spacecraft from the Emirates – and thus the first from an Arab country – recently reached Mars. In cultivating their image, the UAE are now also receiving help from Germany. More and more influencers are drawn to the extremely wealthy Gulf state, especially to Dubai, as Jan Böhmermann recently reported in “ZDF Magazin Royale”. There they would have to apply for a state license, according to which they are obliged to report only positively about the country. Böhmermann’s latest disclosure has already been clicked 2.2 million times on YouTube in the past ten days.
Independent life “unusual” for women
“Dubai has this glittering, modern facade, but civil status law is still strongly shaped by traditional Islamic jurisprudence,” says Eckart Woertz, director of the GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg, of the German press agency. The social roles, rights and duties of men and women differ considerably – although not as extreme as in neighboring Saudi Arabia a few years ago. Until recently, women were not allowed to drive there alone or leave the country without the permission of a male guardian.
That women lead an independent life outside the country, as Latifa apparently wanted, is unusual in the UAE, says Woertz. And that although they are present in professional life and are often better educated than men. The pressure to get married is great, unmarried women over 25 do not correspond to the usual role expectations. The honor of the family also depends on the behavior of women. Unmarried or homosexual holidaymakers also risk imprisonment and have already been arrested for these reasons.
Anyone who interferes risks jail time
According to the scientist, families are a very limited area for the Emirati population. “The general attitude is: You don’t get involved – especially not with a sheik.” In the case of the princess, an open discussion, for example on social media, would also be dangerous. “Everyone knows that if they started sending solidarity messages on Twitter now, they could face jail time.”
“The UAE authorities have a policy of systematically suppressing any form of dissent or criticism,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. Activists, judges and journalists are arbitrarily detained, ill-treated and tortured. “The case of Sheikha Latifa is simply the most public example of this alarmingly depressing climate.”
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