The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.
At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.
“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”
So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”
“Is this real,” one of them, an American sky diver named Chris Colwell, messaged back. “Where are you.”
“Free,” she responded. “And I’ll come see you soon.” She added a heart.
Her escape — planned over several years with the help of a Finnish capoeira trainer and a self-proclaimed French ex-spy — lasted less than a week.
Within a few days of setting sail on the Indian Ocean in the Frenchman’s yacht, bound for India and then the United States, the sheikha went silent. She has not been seen since, except in a few photos released in December by her family, which says she is safely home after surviving what they said was a kidnapping.
Yet thanks to the video she made before fleeing, her face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than two million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce. [Continue reading…]