Summary: Patriarchal UAE legal system under fire as 48-year-old British mother of four risks losing her children to her powerful financial advisor husband, in a case that highlights the lack of power and significance women face in the UAE.
In a story that reads like a plot from a movie, Tulay has been jailed, accused of child neglect, assault and theft by her powerfully connected husband. His word is enough in this male dominated legal system, to have her rights as a mother taken away. Tulay met her husband at university in Durham in 1993. The sweethearts married in 2002, and they had 4 children together.
Tulay became a successful barrister and her husband also prospered as an economic advisor, but when her husband was offered a high-powered role with the UAE government, Tulay agreed to sacrifice her own career to support her husband.
“My sister put her family first, always,” says younger sister Senay, a steel company boss from Loughborough. “There is nothing Tulay won’t do for her children. She loved her career and all the philanthropic work she was doing on the side because she has an active mind and it gave a perfect outlet for her intelligence. She gave all that up out of love for her family.
“They were living in France at the time, and they were already having major relationship difficulties, like any couple. When Tülay threatened to divorce after physical violence, her husband began a smear campaign against her, isolated her from everyone and then went to Dubai to benefit from a less developed and male dominated legal system. We all thought that this new start would be just what they needed. “Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Her husband shocked us by getting caught up in the ‘men first, women second’ culture of the UAE.
“As a female, Tulay needed her husband’s consent to take up employment, which he never gave her. She was deprived of many opportunities in large corporations and international projects. He became badly abusive, emotionally, physically and financially. When she discovered he was having an affair she still believed that they could find a way through for the sake of the children.
“The abuse became so unbearable that in 2018 Tulay began divorce proceedings for the second time and she knew she had to get divorced. The courts would not grant her one, always acceding to the requests of her husband who by now was working closely with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his cabinet, and was best friends with other sheikhs and government ministers.
“We believe her husband was only delaying the divorce while he manufactured evidence against Tulay. For example, my sister would make a big family meal, but then he would order takeaways and encourage the children to discard the meal in favour of bags of take away meals. Then he would show the receipts to the judge as ‘evidence’ that she was not feeding them. She was consistently deprived of her rights as a mother but to the external world, it was shown as if Tulay didn’t care about her kids.
“My sister, my mum, my niece and I, we all experienced first-hand her husband’s violence and his attempts to isolate my sister from her friends and family. Once, I came to their house with my 7 year old kid to take care of her. I was faced with her husband at the door who physically pushed me around and the delivery man next door and the taxi driver had to intervene to help me.
“On another occasion my sister had covid, even though he made it look like he queried and cared about my sis towards the kids, she was not given any food, medicine or a drink. I had to sneak around the house and send all these via the window with a bedsheet as a rope to tie up the bags and send them to her room.
“In every request for divorce Tulay presented evidence of being beaten, or her husband’s infidelity etc, but it was always rejected by the male judge. However, whenever her husband made an accusation it was believed on his word alone. He had her jailed for 3 weeks on an invented allegation of theft.
“She is facing ongoing cases of assault. In fact he broke her 2 fingers in one altercation. Her case was ignored when she got convicted for assaulting him. He had cleverly scratched his own face to make it look like she attacked him getting his handyman to testify in his favour.
“He is already turning the children against her. When she got out of prison, all of her possessions had been shipped off in a lorry and dumped in a storage unit. He moved her oldest daughter into her room and now Tulay has nowhere to live. That daughter has now been turned against her, brainwashed and lured with whatever expensive gifts and clothes she wants.
“All my sister wants is to be able to leave Dubai with her 4 children. But she is not allowed even to see them or have any communication with them at all. Her ex-husband works with the bodyguards and nanny to turn them against Tulay further”.
A court recently ruled that the mother should have temporary custody of the children but when police turned up at her husband’s house to help collect them, her husband’s security guard turned them away. The police did not pursue further action at that time. Her husband then successfully appealed the temporary custody order and Tulay is in court again today. They do not expect a fair hearing. The legal proceedings are ongoing.
Sheikha Zeynab broadcast her custody ordeal, barricading herself and her children in her home. Sadly, what happened to her and her children is not known.
UK based justice organisation Detained in Dubai has helped in a number of family matters over the past decade. In contentious relationships and divorces, parties can act irrationally and Dubai provides a lucrative forum for this kind of abuse. The organisation’s CEO Radha Stirling said “European husbands deny their wife the right to work and have them fired from their jobs and essentially lock them up. Wives have been shocked that their Western husbands suddenly took advantage of sharia principles alive in Dubai. Partners have taken advantage of the strict cybercrime laws in the country, accusing each other of “rude” or “offensive” private WhatsApp communications, an imprisonable offence and others have taken advantage of the country’s inexcusable ‘no evidence’ requirement when making a police complaint. Foreigners are regularly sentenced on the basis of one single person’s word and whoever makes the first complaint, is believed even where contradictory evidence is presented.
“In some very serious circumstances, we have seen husbands make complaints against all members of the wife’s family and have them locked up during divorce proceedings, leaving the family and children in despair and in other cases, false criminal allegations have been made that have caused their spouse to be deported and therefore, deprived of access to the children.
“The UAE affords very few rights to women facing divorce and child custody proceedings in the country. We have time and time again seen women subjected to false criminal allegations by vindictive partners who will stop at nothing in their goal to cause maximum pain to their partners.
“Whether it’s a member of the royal family, a local Emirati woman or an expat, they face an uphill battle in a country where the legal system can be abused by those who take advantage of it. While expats generally believe that their partners will act according to their own cultural norms, the temptation of the chauvinistic system has proven too much for many.
“For women who have experienced it first hand, the nightmarish system can see them unfairly deprived of access to their children, to their bank accounts, their legal permission to work, or worse, jailed. It is sadly, not uncommon, to see expats exploiting the outdated and misogynistic system.
“Mothers need to reconsider living in Dubai where child custody issues would be ruled upon in the event of a separation. Despite the modern skyline, male guardianship is still practiced in the Emirates and women are treated as second class citizens. The system thinks nothing of depriving children of access to their mother.”
Senay continued, “Tulay's situation is of considerable concern given her husband's wealth and connections in the royal family and the UAE government. His team of lawyers are well known for obstructing justice and fabricating testimonies from paid witnesses.”
Founder & CEO at Detained in Dubai