London, June 15: The ruling family of one of the seven United Arab Emirates has deposed its crown prince over claims that he was too sympathetic to women’s rights.
An official decree issued yesterday announced that Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qassimi, 63, had been dethroned in favour of one of his younger brothers.
Sheikh Khalid had been the de facto ruler of the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah for the past four years since his elderly father, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qassimi, became frail.
Sheikh Saqr is one of the world’s longest-serving heads of state, having been ruler since 1948.
The decree appoints Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qassimi, 48, as the crown prince, replacing Sheikh Khalid who has been heir to the throne for 37 years, according to WAM, the official Emirates news agency.
WAM reported that it was not immediately clear why Sheikh Khalid was removed.
However, a government employee close to the ruling family said that the effective coup centred on Sheikh Khalid’s wife, Shaikah Fawqai al-Qassimi, a playwright and a women’s rights activist in her early 40s.
“Sheikh Khalid was told, at a meeting with his father and six of his brothers, that he had to banish his wife from the emirate and demolish the ladies’ club that helps women here if they have problems,” said the employee.
“She has done a lot to bring the country forward, but Sheikh Saud does not feel there is a place for women in today’s Arab society. Sheikh Khalid said he would think about it, but they did not give him time to come back with his answer — they just issued the decree.”
Last night, about 1,000 supporters of Sheikh Khalid, including tribal leaders, gathered outside his palace in a peaceful protest against his brother.
The government employee said that the army fired machinegun bursts over the protesters’ heads.
“There were also about 50 to 60 police vehicles. The crowd has now dispersed, but it is too soon to say what will happen. It’s going to be a very long night.”
Before his appointment as the crown prince, Sheikh Saud chaired Ras al-Khaimah’s royal court, which handles mainly administrative responsibilities.
He is the son of Sheikh Saqr’s third wife, the daughter of one of the UAE’s most prominent businessmen, Ahmed al-Ghurair.
Sheik Saqr has six other sons, from three wives.
The dethronement of Ras al-Khaimah’s crown prince is the first such dramatic shake-up in the history of the seven emirates, which comprise Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwain Sharjah, Fujairah and Ajman.
The crown princes are appointed by each emirate’s ruler and approved by the federal government in Abu Dhabi.
A coup attempt in the early 1990s in Sharjah was put down by the federal government.
Ras al-Khaimah is one of the poorer emirates. Its economy survives largely on the generosity of neighbouring emirates.
It has no oil and relies on traditional trades of fishing and dhow building.
Its population of 170,000 live with traditions and values unchanged for many generations.