Saudi king and royal extravagance

2002-09-04 09:27:23     

Inter Press Service 

4 September 2002

The extravagant vacations of Saudi King Fahd and his

royal retinue in Spain are disproportionate for a

country that has political and social problems,

despite its oil wealth. The 81-year-old king of Saudi

Arabia, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al- Saud, accompanied by

nearly all of his children and family members and an

entourage of more than 3,000, has been vacationing on

Spain's Costa del Sol since Aug. 14. 

In the posh Mediterranean resort town of Marbella, 450

kms southeast of Madrid, he stays in his palace, a

replica of the White House named "Mar Mar". Just the

preparations of the palace for his visit ran to $185


Luxury villas and 300 rooms in five-star hotels were

rented for the rest of the royal family in and around

Marbella. Chic restaurants and jewelry shops have

cheerfully prepared for the Saudi visitors, who spent

$90 million on their last stay, in 1999. 

On this year's visit, which is to be one month longer

than the last one, they are expected to spend as much

as $300 million. Although a boon for Spain's tourist

industry, that sum indicates the Saudi leaders' lack

of concern for their own people. 

Emma Bonino, an Italian member of the European

Parliament, said the royal family has more than $600

billion in funds abroad, and is "more interested in

investing them on the international markets than at


Saudi Arabia ranked 71st out of 173 nations on the

United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) latest

Human Development Index, which measures factors like

life expectancy, school enrollment, and distribution

of wealth. Ahead of Saudi Arabia are nations like

Thailand, Venezuela, Colombia and Slovenia. Per capita

income in Saudi Arabia plunged from $35,000 to $7,000

in just 20 years, while the country's Gross National

Product grew just one percent a year on average during

the same period, and its 3.8 percent demographic

growth rate is one of the highest in the world. 

Meanwhile, discriminatory policies remain in place,

such as those that keep the princes and their families

separate from the rest of the population, and

especially from the immigrants, who keep the economy

running, not to mention the discrimination against

women. Evidence of that was experienced by Bonino

herself when she visited Saudi Arabia as part of a

delegation sent by the European Parliament's

commission of foreign affairs. 

When they were received by the chair of the Saudi

parliament, Salih bin Abdullah bin Humaid, the women

deputies were "denied the honor of a handshake or

eye-to-eye contact," said Bonino, while explanations

that Islam considers women to be different from men

were addressed to the male deputy guests. 

Several Spanish media outlets reported that a British

agency has provided a large group of women to

accompany the Saudi men during their vacations in

Spain, on two conditions: the women must be young and

blonde, and must be replaced every 15 days. 

Although prostitution is legal in Spain, procuring is

punishable by law. Nevertheless, no authority or

organization has moved against the British agency,

even though the contract was made public. Nor has the

illegal hiring of around 50 active-service police

officers to moonshine as bodyguards for the Saudi

king, princes and princesses been questioned. The

arrangement has been reported by several media

outlets, with no reaction from the government. 

On the contrary, King Fahd has been given a royal

welcome, and was visited in Mar Mar by King Juan

Carlos, although according to protocol, the Spanish

sovereign should have received the visiting monarch.

Fahd will also receive visits from Spanish Prime

Minister Jose Maria Aznar and U.S. Secretary of State

Colin Powell. The Saudi monarch and Powell are

expected to discuss present or future U.S. actions

against Iraq, a touchy subject on which the two

countries are publicly divided. 

Another question that may be addressed is a lawsuit

that a group of Saudis are preparing against the U.S.

government and several media outlets for

"pyschological and economic damages" suffered since

the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and


The lawsuit was announced Aug. 21 in Washington by

Saudi lawyer Katih al Shamri. 

The dispute over the succession to the Saudi throne

further compounds Saudi Arabia's social problems and

the difficulties arising from the conflict in the

Middle East and the "war on terrorism" declared by

President George W. Bush, whose government is getting

ready to target Iraq. 

Saudi Arabia is important to the United States, as it

accounts for 25 percent of the world's oil reserves,

and 10 percent of global oil production. 


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