Haya is 45 years old and married to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and vice president of the United Arab Emirates. She is the half sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan and the daughter of the late King Hussein. For the past couple of months she’s been on the run, taking refuge in her London residence with her two children, ages seven and 11. She has initiated a legal battle against her husband in London courts and is seeking a divorce and a restraining order, which might involve one of her children. The details of the case are still unknown, but according to her fellow Jordanians, if the princess fled the Emirates it must be because she was unhappy.
"She is our Princess"
In a working class neighborhood in downtown Amman people are cautious about speaking about the royal family because the family has yet to officially comment on the “Haya affair”. Next to Habibah, a famous knafeh shop, Hassan Obaidi owns a kiosk selling Arabic and English books. He points to pictures of himself standing next to King Abudallah II and his wife, Queen Rania, with pride. "I like the royal family because they are not narrow-minded, unlike in other countries in the Arab world where they do not respect women even though they represent half of society," he says. Princess Haya is a wise and cultured person, according to Obaidi. "I support her in her situation. Whatever happens to her, I'll be on her side," he says.
A little further away, taxi drivers are waiting for their passengers. Mohammad Aqal, in his 60s, has a strong opinion about the case. "She is our princess. She never let us down, and we will stand by her wherever she goes. She is an extraordinary woman who has accomplished a lot of things in Jordan, and today just like before, one can feel her presence everywhere on the streets of Jordan," he says.
Professional horse rider
Princess Haya was 30 years old when she left Jordan for the UAE. In her country, she has maintained an image of a liberated woman with deep humanity, especially for starting a foundation, Tkiyet Um Ali, that distributes food to the poor. "Everyone loves her here. If you meet her on the street, she will stop, answer and respect you," Raif Haddadin, a retired banker, says while sipping coffee in his home.
Haddadin experienced the princess’ kindness one day at a stadium he used to go to regularly. "While growing up, Princess Haya became popular among young people of her generation. She is the first princess to have attended football matches. She encouraged girls to go to the stadiums,” Haddadin says.
She is also an accomplished horseback ride and in 2000 represented Jordan in equestrian jumping competitions at the Sydney Olympics. "She is her father's daughter," adds Haddadin. “She is a free and determined woman."
Many Jordanians were surprised when she married Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in 2004. The ruler of Dubai is 25 years older than her and already had married five times and had many children. Haya became his sixth wife.
An independent woman
Princess Haya is very popular, especially among Jordanian women. At Sports City, a gigantic sports complex built by King Hussein in the 1960s, women in bikinis rub shoulders with veiled women around an outdoor Olympic swimming pool. This is where the Jordanian middle class, including Hala, 30, meets up. "I support any woman who decides to leave her marriage if she is unhappy. Her husband can give her all the castles of the world, but if she is not happy, what's the point?” she says.
Next to her, Salma, a 38-year-old mother of two, adds: "Here, all the women support her. In Jordan there are many divorces that are caused by the men's mistreatments of their wives. These maltreatments are not only physical but psychological and financial as well, and it's very difficult for a woman to be treated fairly and ensure her legal rights. I can’t even begin to think about what happens in the Gulf countries. So if the princess left with the money, then good for her!"
According to some rumors, Princess Haya took around 34.5 million euros ($38.2 million) when she left her husband.
During the past few months, a 40 minute video has circulated online showing 32-year-old Princess Latifa, one of the daughters of the ruler of Dubai, describing her living conditions in the Emirates and comparing them to imprisonment. The video has increased support for princess Haya. "I watched this video yesterday. It is frightening," says Salma.
Latifa attempted to escape by sea a year ago but was intercepted by Dubai authorities. At the time, Haya publicly defended the reputation of the Emirate. But according to sources close to the Jordanian princess, it seems that she may have discovered new elements related to the case that may have encouraged her to flee to secure her safety and that of her children.
After two days of hearings, on July 31, England’s High Court in London announced that another audience will be held on November 11. The princess asked for exceptional protection measures as well as custody of her children.
When it comes to the case, 60-year-old Raed, an employee at the Amman Municipality, says that he trusts the British judicial system. "This is their personal story. We should not get involved," he says. He met the princess, who he described as “an accessible woman", during a horse-riding tournament at Sports City. "That day she had just lost, but she acknowledged and accepted her defeat. She then asked her bodyguards to let her talk to people," Raed recalls.
Princess Haya and her brother Ali occupy a special place in the hearts of Jordanians. They lost their mother, Queen Alia, in a helicopter accident early in their lives. Queen Alia, who is from Palestinian descent, was simple and modest and well loved in Jordan. The publication of Prince Ali’s picture, showing him holding his sister, has profoundly touched the Jordanians.
(This article was originally published in Frenc in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 19th of August)
"Haya is free!” These words have been flooding Jordanian social networks for the past few days. On July 31, Prince Ali of Jordan posted a picture on Twitter with Haya, his only sister. "Today, with my sister Haya bint al-Hussein, the apple of my eye,” the caption read. The tweet soon went viral and Jordanians began to celebrate. Some changed their profile pictures to photos of the princess....