Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum al-Maktoum, 30, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, has married Natasha Aliyeva, a 19-year-old Belarusian trainee waitress he met at Hotel Minsk. Their simple Islamic wedding was preceded by a courtship that lasted less than a month.
The couple met after Sheikh Saeed arrived in Belarus to take part in a shooting championship and moved into the presidential suite of Hotel Minsk. He asked for a glass of orange juice to be sent up to him, and the juice was brought by Aliyeva. The sheikh was immediately smitten, and asked her out. Prior to the wedding, Aliyeva converted from Christianity to Islam, the religion not just of her new husband, but also her Azerbaijani-born father, Muslim Aliyev.
According to Nina Shakhnut, one of Aliyeva's high-school teachers, "Natasha has really aristocratic looks and such charm. I can see what the prince sees in her."
Aliyeva's mother, Liliya, was at first reluctant to let her daughter marry Sheikh Saeed: marriage to him would mean adapting to "a faraway country, strange people, polygamy." Indeed, Sheikh Saeed already had a wife and five children; Aliyeva was to become his second wife. Eventually, Aliyeva's mother relented, and the wedding went ahead.
According to the sheikh's new mother-in-law, he is "an honest, intelligent and tactful man with an excellent education. His fortune doesn't interest me. I'm not a woman to exchange my daughter for money. I don't believe Natasha cares for his fortune either."
That fortune is quite substantial: Sheikh Saeed reportedly has assets worth ₤8 billion (Canadian $16.9 billion / US $16.3 billion).
The newly-married couple have now departed for Cyprus, where Sheikh Saeed is taking part in another shooting competition. Natasha's sister Galina is moving to Dubai with them, to act as interpreter for the newlyweds.
Sheikh Saeed's late father, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was the emir of Dubai between 1990 and 2006. Asked by Belarusian journalists whether he would one day himself become the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Saeed answered, "Is it important? Money and power come and go. Belief is the only thing that remains for ever" (Daily Mail).