Analysis

Jordan's Princess Haya Just Fled Abusive Dubai Ruler. That's the Smallest of King Abdullah's Headaches

King Abdullah is trying to distance himself from Princess Haya's move, which comes amid rising tensions between Amman and the Gulf states

Princess Haya of Jordan and Dubai's Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Wikimedia Commons / Reuters

“I no longer care whether you live or die, you no longer have any place in my life, go to the person that interests you.” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum so concluded a short “poem” to his wife Princess Haya Bint Hussein on Instagram, in which he accused her of being unfaithful and a liar. The princess is the daughter of the late King Hussein and his late wife Queen Alia, who died in a plane crash under mysterious circumstances. She’s also a sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The “poet” is the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. She is 45, he is 70, and they have two children, Zayid, seven, and Al-Jalila, 11.

Haya, according to The Daily Beast, fled from Dubai with both children last month and has apparently sought political asylum in Germany. Arab media say the princess, who is the sixth wife of Bin Rashid (a father of 23), has been harassed by his offspring, insulted, boycotted and humiliated by his other wives. It appears that a German diplomat with whom she is close friends has come to her aid.

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The humiliated Bin Rashid said he would do all he could to return his children but at least judging by what he wrote, he doesn’t intend to ask his wife to return home. Abdullah’s relatives have already been recruited to negotiate the anticipated divorce. The ruler of Dubai says he will negotiate fairly to end the marriage on condition that his children are returned to him. This would appear to be another story worthy of a television series one of these days, but it’s not only a storm of gossip sweeping social media – it’s a political minefield that could affect Jordan’s ties with the UAE.

Abdullah, already preoccupied by another affair regarding his aunt, Princess Basma, whose husband is accused of corruption, has tried to distance himself from this new hornet’s nest. He knows that any out-of-place remark could hurt the status of 200,000 Jordanians who work in the UAE, erode the financial aid he receives from the country and shake up the fragile ties between Jordan and the Gulf states. Last month the king praised his host, Mohammed Bin Zayed, during a joint military exercise with the UAE, and named a division after him, but the Dubai ruler wasn’t at these ceremonies. With all due respect to politics, there are family matters that are apparently not forgiven.

Tensions between the two countries may rise regardless of the royal couple’s problems. Recently Jordan said it planned to name the foreign ministry’s director general as ambassador to Qatar and he hoped to see a new envoy from Qatar in Amman. That was already seen as a challenge against Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain and Egypt, which two years ago had imposed sanctions against Qatar and cut off diplomatic ties. Jordan refused to join the full boycott and only downgraded its diplomatic representation and since then has stood up to heavy Saudi pressure to fully cut off ties with Qatar.

Jordan’s firm stand on this issue has brought another bonus. In August Qatar provided Jordan with generous support of $500 million and said it intended to invest a few billion in the kingdom and let 10,000 more Jordanians work there. Jordan, which needs any and all aid due to its regime-threatening economic crisis, pays in political cash when on the one hand it puts its political independence on display before Gulf countries, which could exact another price in relations with the Saudis and the UAE.

King Abdullah II (C) and Sheikh Mohamed ben Zayed Al-Nahyan (R), the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, observe joint Jordan-UAE military exercises in June 2019.
Yousef ALLAN / Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP

But there are already cracks in these ties due to Jordan’s concerns that the Saudis aspire to remove its custodianship over Jerusalem’s holy sites. Last month the deputy head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Kamal Khatib, warned against an American-Israeli plan to make the Saudis trustees of the Temple Mount.

“There’s a deep Jordanian fear and an even greater Palestinian concern that trusteeship over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem is Donald Trump’s next move, and that he intends to transfer it to Saudi custodianship as a gift from Washington to Riyadh,” al-Khatib said in an interview with the Al Khalij online web site.

Abdullah doesn’t need al-Khatib’s warnings; he is quite familiar with the Saudi aspiration and that’s also the reason why it took him so long to decide to send a Jordanian delegation to the Bahrain conference. Jordanian sources said that the king, who doesn’t believe or trust the American initiative, doesn’t want to entrap himself in a situation where the Americans and the Saudis would exploit Jordan’s presence to put pressure on him about the holy sites and force him to agree to absorb hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Such a demographic move would not only endanger a delicate political balance in the kingdom, but could play into the hands of Israel, which sees Jordan as an alternative Palestinian homeland.

Jordan finds itself trapped between Arab and international forces trying to force it into dangerous steps whereby Saudi, Israeli and American interests turn it into a kingdom on the defensive. But at a time when utmost caution is needed by Israel, it is stepping rudely into Islamic holy sites, escorted by its American patron.