Interview by Hayder al-Shakarchi
The following interview is part of a series published by Al Bawaba News, exploring the viewpoints, convictions, partisanship and consensus that exists in Washington D.C. around Middle East issues.
The author of this series will speak to analysts, policymakers and experts in their own words. Our aim is to provide a sense of the discussions and insider dialogue taking place in the world's most powerful capital. This does not in any way imply an editorial edorsement of the individuals or policy proposols put forward.
At times the framing of events and geopolitics found in the DC Insider Q&A format will be debunked or qualified by members of our editorial team in separate sections of the website.
Al Bawaba is indepenent and does not align with any existing political party or ideological group.
Hayder al-Shakarchi is an Arab-American journalist and an international news analyst based in Washington, D.C.
Al-Shakarchi: Currently, you do an amazing thing by helping others that have been put in the same horrible situation as you were with Detained in Dubai. How is that experience?
Haigh: “It’s very upsetting when you see the reality of what happens and the tragedies on a daily basis. It’s also very rewarding… About a month ago, I had Ellie Holman, the young lady who was jailed for having a drink while flying on Emirates, came to my house with her children and I had this 4-year-old kid come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for rescuing my mommy.’ And it’s things like that, little things like that, that make it all worthwhile because it was a sweet innocent little comment and she’s right: If it wasn’t for us and the media work that we did, she’d probably still be there. The people on the boat with Sheikha Latifa would’ve been killed; it’s clear that they had every intention on killing them if that video hadn’t come out and it was only the video, and our word, that saved them and they all say the same thing…. That’s another five people, so it makes it worthwhile when you see that you’re not only helping people, you’re actually saving people’s lives from a really horrible situation.”
Al-Shakarchi: Do you see similarities between the UAE and Saudi Arabia?
Haigh: “Obviously what’s happened with Khashoggi is shocking and all the other things that you see with the crown prince and his so-called ‘anti-corruption drive’ is worrying. The fact that he’s now being seen in nightclubs in Abu Dhabi with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and then shaking hands with the Grand Prix... It’s ridiculous! It’s almost like you’re living in some kind of parallel universe! Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but it looks like all this is pointing at him. And yet, he’s living it large at nightclubs and Grand Prix with celebrities.”
What’s happening with Sheikha Latifa and how did you get involved?
“Not a lot of people know this, but I knew her ten years ago when I was in Dubai because she was the best friend of my PA. Also, I had one of the same personal trainers and it’s ironic because ultimately, one of the things that helped her was that we managed to convince ourselves that the girl that was on the boat really was her. Sadly, we really don’t know what’s happened to her. She was very clear in her videos and her instructions to us all if this happened- she felt that if she was caught for the second time, they would kill her, and no one’s seen her… She hasn’t been seen since the 4 March; It’s nine months this week. Since the campaign we started, we got everyone involved from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty to the United Nations, and everybody’s been ignored by the UAE and India. Six people were on that boat, five of them are free. We’ve got evidence of everything and they’re just hiding, much like they did with Khashoggi. They lied and lied in thinking that nobody would know, but the world knows now and certainly, this week, the world will know when the documentary goes out.”
What will the documentary be about?
“It’s Latifah’s story, and her sister’s story. Their quest for freedom, just wanting to leave… They haven’t done anything wrong, they just wanted to be free. It must be very difficult for higher-up Emirati girls, in particular… They see everyone else enjoying this life that’s right in their face but they can’t enjoy it themselves and they can’t partake in it themselves and their noses are literally pressed upon the glasses of Dubai with the leaders telling everybody how there are equal rights for everybody and how they’re tolerant and how they’re this and they’re that… Yet, Latifa wasn’t allowed to drive, she wasn’t allowed a passport, she wasn’t allowed a bank account, she wasn’t allowed to travel, she’d been locked up for years on end and abused and tortured. This is a brave young girl who can change things for the better in the Middle East… If they’ve done something very bad to her, then her story and her wish will go on. That’s what she said; she left the long video that everybody’s seen about 50 million times now and with it, very clear instructions that if something bad happens to her, then at least the hope is that some good will come from it.”
Al-Shakarchi: How do you think the UAE will react to this documentary?
Haigh: “I think its going to be the worst documentary the UAE has ever seen. People will be so shocked that it might actually have a commercial impact on Dubai and I think that’s what’s really going to change. I’ve seen it, two versions of it now, and I’ve been involved everyday with this… From the minute that she called us, when we heard the gunshots in the background as the boat was attacked, until now, so I’m somewhat jaded to all of what happened. I almost cried [when watching the documentary], and I’m a pretty tough cookie and I know this story. So the people that don’t, and the way that it’s been edited… They’re [UAE] in for a big problem, I think. It’s going out on BBC2, on primetime, by an award-winning crew and it’s been sold to America a month later… ”
Al-Shakarchi: How is the US involved in all of this?
Haigh: “She was going to claim asylum in America… She didn’t even believe that England was safe. She thought that, ‘Only America is safe for me because my sister was kidnapped from England,’ so for her, it was America. We were interviewed by Sean Hannity, so there’s a very big U.S. story and U.S. angle to this. At the end of the day, it hasn’t gotten the media attention it needed, and it was going to get it - FOX News and Sean Hannity were going to run masses over a period of two week… They started off, but then it was like someone had tapped them on the shoulder and said, ‘Don’t do anymore.’ And now you look at the Khashoggi thing and you think, ‘Mmmhmm.”
Could someone be covering up Sheikha Latifa’s story?
“An American did something very naughty, and we know what was done and that will come out because if you look at this… This was an American boat that was attacked on international waters under an American flag by a Muslim country. It’s not an issue about Islam, it’s not about that… If you look at Americans, normally if you put that story out to them, it’d be all over the news. It isn’t and why isn’t it? This was an American boat attacked, the flag was ripped off… It’s proven, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve got lots and lots of trackers and proof and the UN, Human Rights Watch… everybody backing it. Why has this story not gotten bigger in America? It’s an American boat with an American captain, who has American sons, rescuing a princess… There’s a reason why, and I think that will come out soon, but it seems highly likely to me that someone’s squashing it.
Al-Shakarchi: Sheikha Latifa posted a distress message on Instagram. What are your thoughts on that?
Haigh: “It was a silly thing to do because that’s one of the things that could’ve helped locate her but that was her Instagram account, personal and verified to her. And so she posted a distress message, which basically said, ‘I’ve run away from a very bad man who’s trying to kill me.’ And Instagram took it down… That action alone could’ve cost her life. Instagram actually had a role in all of this unwittingly. We wrote to them and said, ‘Sheikha Latifa has appointed us as her lawyers, here’s the proof... Why did you take this down, and on what basis? It’s her verified account, it’s not just a normal account, it’s a verified account.” They didn’t write back but then a couple of days later, her account was put back on. It was out of the blue. Suspiciously, a couple of days later, it vanished again.”
Al-Shakarchi: How does your case impact future detainees in Dubai?
Haigh: “It’s so surreal what happened. Even when I look back on it now, I spent two years of my life there, and obviously, I’ve been through a lot of therapy and things of that sort for moths… I still can’t quite believe that it happened. But then, you see that it’s happening again and again to so many innocent people. It was hell, but the good thing is that there’s always a silver lining on these things… They picked the wrong person because up until then, I was the most high-profile person they’d put in jail and I don’t like bullies and I’ve got a bit of a big mouth because of [my time in] football. I’ve managed to get a lot of publicity from all the other cases over there so I would imagine that they probably regret what they did now… Serves them right.”
In 2014 David Hedges was detained in Dubai for 22 months without trial. Today he is a campaigner for human rights and justice in the UAE, and a founding partner in Stirling Haigh, an international crisis management and dispute resolution and strategic advisory firm.
© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)