'Secret wife' of Dubai sheikh seeks UK asylum

London, UK - Nivin El-Gamal, the "secret wife" of a Dubai sheikh, is seeking asylum in London after she claimed their relationship broke down and their young son became sick.

She said she feared for the future of her one-year-old son by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum after the "marriage" broke down.

Sheikh Ahmed, the uncle of Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, is chairman of Emirates Airlines and the public face of "Dubai Inc", the web of companies behind the city-state's prosperity.

"Miss El-Gamal is concerned for the welfare and for the health of her son," said Ayesha Vardag, the high-profile London divorce lawyer acting for her.

There is no suggestion that Sheikh Ahmed has behaved improperly.

Miss El-Gamal, the daughter of a prominent Egyptian businessman, claims she met Sheikh Ahmed in Dubai in 2003.

Eight years younger than his nephew, Sheikh Ahmed has been at the forefront of the development of its major holding companies.

When Dubai caused a worldwide panic in November after announcing it was seeking a "standstill" in repayments of some of its debts, it was Sheikh Ahmed who went on television and issued a statement to try to calm the financial markets.

Despite the crisis, the Maktoums remain one of the richest families in the world, with Emirates alone worth likely to be worth billions of dollars were it a publicly traded company.

But as with the other members of the emirate's royal family, Sheikh Ahmed keeps his private life to himself.

The sheikhs make strategic marriages with other Gulf royal families but still practise polygamy, enabling the sort of "private marriage" Miss El-Gamal says she willingly underwent.

Miss El-Gamal, 33, claims she had a seven-year relationship with the sheikh but was now trying to get in touch with him for support for her son, though she did not disclose the nature of his illness.

She claimed the pair formalised their marriage at a private ceremony in Sheikh Ahmed's Belgravia apartment in 2006 and maintained their relationship on his frequent trips to London, where she first studied and then practised interior design.

But she alleges they argued after she became pregnant, and the final straw was when she was told of the sheikh's official marriage in 2008.

"Imagine me having a baby just two months old and I'm seeing his wedding on television," she told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Miss El-Gamal claims that she fears being persecuted for her faith, having converted to Kabbalah, the mystic Jewish sect, while in London.

Her initial claim for asylum was rejected earlier this month but she is now appealing.

Miss Vardag previously acted for the German heiress, Katrin Radmacher, during her successful bid to get her pre-nuptial agreement recognised in an English court.

"I am acting for Miss El-Gamal in respect of her son but I cannot comment any further on this case," she said.

The Dubai government media office said on Sunday it was unable to comment on Sheikh Ahmed's behalf.