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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alamy Stock Photo A photograph of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum and Mary Robinson released by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2018.
# 7 great reads
Sitdown Sunday: The tales of four women who have tried to flee Dubai's royal family
Settle down in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Dubai’s fugitive princesses

A horrific and engrossing account of the experiences of four women in Dubai’s ruling royal family, and their efforts to escape the abuse and control of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s absolute monarchy.

(The New Yorker, approx 75 mins reading time)

Before they set off, Latifa sneaked over to Jauhiainen’s apartment, which had become a storehouse for the scuba equipment, satellite communicators, and boat parts the two women had amassed, and sat down in front of a video recorder. Dressed in a loose blue T-shirt, she recorded almost forty minutes of testimony, to be released in the event of her capture. Her father, she said, was a “major criminal,” responsible for torturing and imprisoning numerous women who disobeyed him. Her older sister had languished in captivity under sedation following her own attempt to get out, eighteen years earlier, she said, and her aunt had been killed for disobedience. Latifa was running away to claim a life “where I don’t have to be silenced,” where she could wake up in the morning and think, “I can do whatever I want today, I can go wherever I want, I have all the choices in the world.” (Attorneys for Sheikh Mohammed denied any wrongdoing on his part, but declined to respond to detailed questions.) Aboard the yacht, Latifa texted a friend, “I really feel so free now. Walking target yes but totally free.” A week into the voyage, though, the captain spotted another ship apparently tailing them, and a small plane circling overhead. The runaways were about thirty miles off the coast of India, and the yacht was running low on fuel. The captain feared that Latifa had been located. “They will kill her,” he texted a friend on March 3rd.

2. Who wants to live forever?

Research is being carried out to find out how we can slow down the aging process. But could the ovaries have the answer? 

(Wired, approx 10 mins reading time)

In 2018, the field of reproductive longevity was so nascent that Garrison had a hard time finding faculty to interview, let alone hire, to staff the center. Few people were actively researching it, partly because the only other mammals that experience it are whales—which can’t exactly be studied in a lab. It’s also hard to study ovarian aging in such long-lived species—killer whales, for example, can live up to 90 years in the wild. Instead, researchers have often tried to crack menopause and its link to aging by proxy: by observing chemotherapy’s effects on fertility, by studying a common menopause treatment that mimics female hormones, or by experimenting on mice, which are imperfect stand-ins for humans. Five years later, the Buck Institute’s efforts are starting to deliver results. Researchers might not have figured out how to slow reproductive aging yet, but they’ve spurred interest in a long-overlooked organ and opened a new avenue of inquiry that could have implications for how everyone ages—not just people with ovaries. 

3. Pens down

Six film and TV writers in the US explain why they and their colleagues in the industry are taking strike action. 

(The Guardian, approx 9 mins reading time)

The instability in the industry has left even writers with good jobs worried about the future, Nichols said. One writer on the first season of Abbott Elementary had mice in her apartment, but was too afraid of her job disappearing to be willing to pay “a little bit more rent”, Nichols said. She knows writers who work for network television shows driving cars “that are barely functioning”. The Writers Guild is currently “the most diverse it’s ever been”, and many newer writers come from less privileged backgrounds, and know what it’s like to struggle, Nichols said.

4. The counteroffensive

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg speak to president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and soldiers on the front line about their plan for victory. 

(The Atlantic, approx 34 mins reading time)

But something even deeper is at stake as well. As Zelensky put it, this is a war over a fundamental definition of not just democracy but civilization, a battle “to show everybody else, including Russia, to respect sovereignty, human rights, territorial integrity; and to respect people, not to kill people, not to rape women, not to kill animals, not to take that which is not yours.” If a Ukraine that believes in the rule of law and human rights can achieve victory against a much larger, much more autocratic society, and if it can do so while preserving its own freedoms, then similarly open societies and movements around the world can hope for success too. After the Russian invasion, the Venezuelan opposition movement hung a Ukrainian flag on the front of its country’s embassy hall in Washington. The Taiwanese Parliament gave a rapturous welcome to Ukrainian activists last year. Not everyone in the world cares about this war, but for anyone trying to defeat a dictator, it has profound significance.

5. An ode to bees

A reflective essay from Celia Bell about how taking up beekeeping during the Covid-19 pandemic helped her to reconnect with life.

(Texas Highways, approx 14 mins reading time)

At first glance, the inside of a beehive is chaos. Each hive box contains removable frames, which a beekeeper can pull out to inspect in order to verify the health of the hive. But bees build to their own designs, constructing bridges of wax between adjacent frames or gluing frames together with propolis—an anti-microbial paste made from plant resin that forms part of the immune defense of a colony. In the darkness of the hive, bees build their combs with just enough space between them to let two bees on adjacent frames pass each other. Looking down on a healthy open hive, I had the impression that every inch of space was packed with honeybees, somehow still moving purposefully despite the crowd. I pulled a frame loose and some took flight, while others made hanging festoons at the bottom of the frame. The hum of the hive vibrated upward from the open box. For the first time since the pandemic started, I felt like I was fully present, as if some invisible screen separating me from the world had been removed.

6. Two unlikely heroes

The remarkable story of how two students in Khartoum happened to rescue dozens of people in a run-down Toyota taxi following the outbreak of war in Sudan.

(The New York Times, approx 15 mins reading time)

Crunching over bullet casings, they navigated a gantlet of check posts manned by jittery fighters from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, some wearing bandages or limping. The fighters scanned the students’ phones and peppered them with questions. It took an hour to travel four miles. “We went through hell,” Mr. Tibwa said. They found the U.N. official, named Patience, alone at her apartment in an apparently deserted building. She had been hiding in her bathroom for days, slowly depleting three cellphones, she said, showing them a scatter of bullet holes in her living room wall. The students consoled her, wrapped her in an all-covering abaya robe, and devised a cover story: Their passenger was pregnant and needed to get to a hospital. They paused to say a prayer. “We knew that the moment we stepped out, there was no going back,” Mr. Tibwa said.


A 2019 longread about the 1981 crime that shocked Germany involving Ursula Herrmann, a 10-year-old girl who never returned home. 

(The Guardian, approx 35 mins reading time)

On the Thursday morning, when Ursula had been missing for more than 36 hours, the phone rang in the Herrmann house. When Ursula’s parents picked up there was silence, and then a short, familiar jingle, which they recognised from the traffic bulletin on the Bayern 3 radio station. More silence ensued, and then the jingle played again before the caller hung up. Three more similar calls – baffling and sinister – followed over a period of hours. A team from the local police department, now stationed inside the Herrmann home, began recording the calls. At noon the next day, the postman delivered an envelope addressed to Ursula’s father, marked urgent. Inside was a ransom note composed using letters and words cut out from tabloid newspapers. “We kidnapped your daughter,” the note began, in broken German. “If you ever want to see your daughter alive again, then pay 2m deutschmarks [£450,000] ransom.” The kidnappers, expecting the letter to have arrived a day earlier – before the calls began – explained that they would phone the Herrmanns using a jingle as their call sign. “Just say if you will pay or not pay … if you call the police or do not pay we will kill your daughter.”

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

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