Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, is a poet well-known for his obsession with horses. On Instagram, a follower of Bin Rashid will find his poetry enriched in equine imageries: “Honored is the horse on this land and victorious, whence every horse aspires to be glorious.”
This powerful ruler of Dubai, a poet and an aficionado of horses, has been all over the media after the news broke that Princes Haya, his sixth wife, fled Dubai and is now seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom.
“You let the reins on your horse go free,” Bin Rashid, on June 10, addressed Princess Haya through a poem entitled “You Lived and You Died.” He posted this poem on Instagram lamenting his wife’s “treachery and betrayal.”
Unlike the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell’s lustful portrayal of his coy mistress, Bin Rashid’s poem contains draconian grievances of a man full of anger and anguish. “Your days of lying are over and it doesn’t matter what we were and what you are,” he now doesn’t care if “you (Prices Haya) live or you die.”
Mr. Maktoum’s poem dedicated to his wife marks a significant timeframe when she fled the United Arab Emirates asking for asylum in the United Kingdom in fear of her life. Meanwhile, reports of abuses and mistreatment have been raised against the ruler of Dubai.
Princess Haya’s escape to the UK has now the potential to create a diplomatic dilemma between the UAE and the UK. The United Kingdom has extensive provisions in place to provide protection to persons seeking asylum. If the United Kingdom extradites Princess Haya, a government plagued by Brexit saga, it will cause backlash at home and in the international community. On the other hand, diplomatic relation between the UK and the UAE is too important to ratchet up a spat on a potential extradition question.
Princess Haya, however, is not the first story of women escaping from the Gulf States. There have been a myriad of stories of violence against women and multiple escapes from these countries sparking international backlash in the last few years. Human Rights Watch, earlier this year, listed ten reasons why women flee Saudi Arabia.
From domestic violence to political repression, trends in women repression in these countries are almost identical. Through the narratives of the women who could make it to ‘freedom’ from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, the world has learned of the extent of repression women go through in these countries.
Life in Saudi, published in ABC News, portrayed the extent of women repression in Saudi Arabia. They quoted Nourah, in her pseudo name, saying, “Any male from my family can control my life in any way. He can make the big decisions in my life including my partner, the future of my education, even if I went to hospital he had to sign for me.” There are multiple others stories of rights violation and arrests of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and the neighboring countries.
Thanks to the incumbent Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, women have their driving license for the first time since 2018. But the Crown Prince Bin Salman has also been accused of imprisoning women rights activists including Loujain al-Hathloul, who championed Saudi women’s rights to drive. Saudi Arabia looks rather focused on trying its human rights defenders as Riyadh froze business ties with Canada and expelled its ambassador after Canada called for release of the detained activists.
During the outset of the Gulf States’ blockade over Qatar, the plight of women resurfaced as families got torn apart after the blockading countries expelled Qatari citizens from the countries.
All the Gulf States have identical rules on children’s citizenship. which is to be determined through their father’s citizenship. As a result, many women in Doha with husbands from neighboring Gulf countries have suffered on the issue of their children’s citizenship, as in Qatar, the children of Qatari mothers go through a rigorous process to apply for citizenship, whilst through the fathers they can have Qatari citizenship automatically.
No freedom to travel or get a passport, no freedom to choose marriage partner, child marriages and inequality in divorce, child custody, inheritance and some other issues, as listed by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, have some religious implications - distortedly used - in defense of Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries’ policies towards women.
Saudi Arabia adopts extreme interpretations of Islam in areas that benefit the interest of its kingdom and at the same time, opens up bikini sea beaches to allure tourists. The Gulf Countries’ domineering approach towards women and continuous repression doesn’t necessarily reflect their adherence to the spirit of the religion they follow. The approach of these monarchies towards women rather have more in common with the draconian policies they apply to subdue the Arab people seeking freedom and democracy.
The women in Bin Rashid’s country either live a life incarcerated under the guardianship of domineering male ‘custodians’ who get to decide everything about their lives or “it doesn’t matter what we were and what you are,” as Al Maktoum writes, the men do not care if “you live or you die.”