By now, millions of people across the globe, including in the Arab world, have watched the harrowing video made by Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum before her dramatic escape from Dubai. By all rights, hers should be the face of a new Arab Spring of sorts, this time in the Gulf states. The fallout from this incident is incalculable.
Latifa recounts a litany of abuses, including years of torture, detention in brutal solitary confinement, threats, and forced drugging committed against herself and her elder sister Shamsa upon the orders of her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE. She alleges further crimes against others, also ordered by Sheikh Mohammed, including the murder of his own sister-in-law.
In late February, 2018, Latifa escaped the UAE along with her friend Tiina Jauhiaien of Finland, with the help of French-American national Herve Jaubert, a former French intelligence agent. Latifa was secretly transported across the border with Oman, and escaped with Tiina on Jaubert’s American registered yacht Nostromo. They sailed for Goa, India with the intention of then flying to the United States to seek asylum.
On March 4th, Detained in Dubai, with whom Jaubert and Latifa had made contact while at sea, received a panicked call from Latifa saying that the boat was under siege amidst gunfire. Communication ceased at this point, and Detained n Dubai filed missing persons reports for all onboard, and brought the disappearances to the attention of the United Nations, as well as to the international media. Following these steps, Jaubert and Jauhiaien were both subsequently released from the UAE, and we are now learning more details about the events surrounding the capture of Nostromo and its passengers and crew. The actions of the UAE in this matter are astonishing, and give considerable credence to the allegations Latifa made in her video.
What seems clear is that the UAE coordinated with the Indian Coast Guard to raid Nostromo, and either escort or tow it back to a military base in Fujairah. This has essentially been confirmed by leaks from Indian intelligence. There is no other way to characterise such an action except as an act of piracy; an act of piracy perpetrated by two states allied with the US against an American flagged vessel in international waters, resulting in the forced abduction of an American citizen, a Finnish citizen, and at least 3 Filipino crew members, as well as Latifa herself. There is no doubt that this operation involved the UAE military and the Indian Coast Guard, as well as, most likely, mercenaries employed by a Private Military Company working for the UAE; in gross violation of International Law, Maritime Law, and the existing treaties of the UAE and India, with the United States, Finland, and the Philippines. All of this so that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum could capture and silence the daughter he is alleged to have abused since she was a minor, according to her own words.
Make no mistake about it; the ramifications of this incident are huge.
Mohammed bin Rashid has spent millions of dollars with Western Public Relations firms to cultivate an image as a modern, liberal, enlightened ruler. He has tried to position Dubai, and by extension the UAE, as a hub for tourism and investment, all the while presenting himself to the world as a dynamic visionary who embraces Western values and Human Rights. This image has been permanently shattered, not only by his daughter’s accusations (which deserve a thorough independent investigation, and potential criminal charges), but also by the belligerent actions of the UAE in their operation to capture her.
The full details of what took place on March 4th aboard Nostromo, and the events that followed, will undoubtedly come to light. No one on the boat had committed a crime, no one was a fugitive, and the yacht was legally sailing in the Indian Ocean with all documentation in order. There was absolutely no legal justification for intercepting Nostromo, no justification for commandeering it, and no justification for abducting its passengers and crew. The UAE acted outside the law, and as long as Latifa continues to be held against her will in the country she sought to flee, they remain outside the law. And there is every reason to believe that Sheikh Mohammed bears full responsibility for this.
It is unlikely that he can survive this. Latifa said that her father is ruthlessly concerned with his own reputation, and he has carefully interwoven his own image with that of Dubai. After everything that has occurred; and with the likelihood of a criminal investigation at the highest levels of international justice; his reputation is not going to recover, and that means he himself has become a liability to Dubai’s image.
The political stability of the UAE now depends upon the smoothness of the succession process in Dubai.
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