SEEMA MUSTAFA | 22 APRIL, 2020
UAE’s Princess Hend Faisal Al Qassemi
Princess Hend Faisal Al Qassemi ---Hend as she reminds an interviewer (Hind) means India--- has certainly got India on her toes with a series of tweets that has had powerful businessmen in the UAE scrambling to delete hateful tweets, even as she reminds us of Gandhi, and the power of love. She has got the twitter industry that dominates social media in this part of the world on attention, with the normally aggressive trolls holding their breath.
For Qassemi, from the UAE royal stock, is one of the several members of the Arab elite and intellectuals who have taken to Twitter to remind India of her democratic credentials, and warn those indulging in hate speech and threats against the Indian Muslims. But this is not the only reason for the pause, as Qassemi herself is a well known figure in international circles, a recognised name in the fashion industry with her House of Hend, a big name in the magazine world as the editor of Velvet, a Royal herself who was married into royalty until she separated with quiet dignity, an author with short stories in the Black Box of Arabia in her kitty.
Wearing a hijab she is a champion of women’s empowerment, bold in her speech, and firm in her views. Her interviews in the past reveal her passion for equality, but not in the strict feminist kind wherein she sees a “balanced” role for both men and women. She quotes Margaret Thatcher to say that if you want to solve a problem give it for discussion to the men, and for action to the women. She rules the fashion industry without giving up the hijab, but the covers of Velvet do not compromise with the elements that make it a recognised magazine in the exclusive and top end of haute couture.
And yet she does not appear to be a woman of contradiction, secure in herself as her rise in the industry, and her endless interests and passions show. She comes from a family where her mother--Royalty of course---went on to become the principal of a school and her father a medical doctor, moved to establish a chain of hospitals. So as she has told interviewers in the past, she comes from a working family, where her parents were “co-dependent” on each other, and worked together to create an environment where the girl felt empowered and not discriminated. Interestingly, she got her business flair from her grandmother who was widowed at 19 years with two daughters, started a business and taught herself over the years. Qassemi recalls somewhere that she remembers hearing her grandmother pronouncing words and teaching herself at the age of 50 years, a no mean feat that.
She is bright and fashionable, high end of course but with a passion that is visible on her social media pages and her interviews and speeches across the world. A proud Emirati, she harps on love and peace and humanity even as she rubs shoulders naturally with the top end of nations across the world. She professes a love for India, and as she says in one of her more recent tweets she cannot keep away from Bollywood and cheese naan. In school she had friends from India as well as across the globe, has visited the country, seems to have an insight into its working and yet is not hesitant to say that hate speech will not be tolerated or accepted. That her views have backing from the top is clear from the quiet acceptance of her views within the UAE, and that as other intellectuals joining her in the campaign have pointed out the staggering numbers of Indians working in the Gulf itself should be a reminder of possible consequences. At the same time she takes care to point out in a tweet that the laws against this apply equally to nationals and those working in the UAE.
Princess Hend Al Qassimi
UAE law applies on nationals and non-nationals in terms of hate speech.
Her ‘The Biack Book of Arabia’ should have been controversial but was not. As she tells an interviewer, she has been fortunate as while she is drowned in messages very few are negative. The book is a compilation of short stories and as she says in an interview around its release, “well, in the black box are all the secrets, the untold stories, the facts. So that why I called my debut The Black Book of Arabia. There’s no fanfare, they’re often just the result of hearing these incredible, sometimes secret, tales and wanting to tell them straight.” And she has done that and in the process made it clear to the world that Arab women are not to be trampled upon, they are not submissive, but in their sorrow there is also empowerment.
Born in 1984, Qassemi has established herself as a woman of substance, out there in the world with dignity, and not one to be messed around with. She was married into the royal family, separated with dignity, has a son and is said to be now fighting for his custody. Hers too is a personal tale of some struggle, but one that she has very consciously and deliberately kept out of the public view. She does not come through as bitter in her writings, or her interviews, but positive about moving ahead with the emancipation of women her theme. Those who know her respect her, find her very interesting and firm in her views. A painter, an architect, a writer, a fashion designer, a business woman there is little that she has not dabbled with.
So when Qassemi speaks she is heard. She says it as it is and her decision to warn those using Arab soil to mount a hate campaign is not meaningless. She has virtually led the latest Twitter charge against hate speech and action and without being soppy laid out a bottom line through her tweets. One, that hate is unacceptable, two, that India should remember Gandhi, three, that the UAE will exhibit zero tolerance for such posts from within their region, four, that she loves India and will continue to do so. She takes care not to exult when tweets are deleted and instead tweets, “The UAE and India are old friends, the few ignorant extremists will not affect relations between the two rising nations. Let us be an example of love instead of hate. Why demolish what you can build. Besides, I like my Bollywood movies and cheese naan too much to stay away.”
She was in India last February (cover photograph) zipping through Chennai in an autorickshaw after inaugurating “pilots in hijab' service where women and transgenders join the men to drive this public transport across the city. Her visit did not make the headlines outside the city but the Women’s pride icon on the M Auto Pride application that she launched. clearly fits in with her larger commitments.
A Princess to watch out for.