Magazine article New Internationalist

The House of Saud [Worldbeaters]

Magazine article New Internationalist

The House of Saud [Worldbeaters]

Article excerpt


A monthly meander around the morals of the rich and famous

The House of Saud is not small. There are 3,000 to 4,000 Saudi princes (some 30 to 40 new males are born every month) who each receive an annual stipend of $500,000

When Ibn Saud was consolidating the current royal family's power over the Arabian peninsula back during World War One, British agent Harry St John Philby referred to him as 'the greatest Arab since the Prophet Muhammad'. This despite Ibn's proclivity for roaring with laughter as he beat his servants with a stick in front of his guests, his dependence on a full-time interpreter of his dreams and his taste (also shared by his 'modern' relatives) for public amputations and beheadings.

It was a point in history when the British were more concerned with undercutting Turkish influence than by the niceties of royal conduct. Ibn, who hailed from the Wahhabi Sunni subsect of Islam, gave the newly minted royal dynasty a healthy kick-start with an impressive number of progeny from his hundred-odd wives.

The reasons have changed but the policy remains the same. Despite much official ballyhoo about democracy and human rights, the 'permissive' attitude of the West towards the House of Saud continues. While other regional dictators like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qadhafi are punished for arbitrary imprisonment, mistreatment of minorities and elimination of any opposition, the House of Saud is commended as a bulwark of regional stability. The reasons are clear enough - religion and oil. Saudi Arabia is home to the holy places of Mecca and the House of Saud champions a regressive form of Islam that the US State Department sees as an alternative to radical fundamentalism.

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Saudi Arabia also sits on 25 per cent of the world's known oil reserves and plays a moderating role in OPEC by manipulating supply to keep prices down. So the West's addiction to oil makes the House of Saud subject to only mild tut-tutting on questions of human rights. While addictions to Burmese heroin or Colombian cocaine are treated as national disasters, the addiction to 'black gold' is never questioned.

The current House of Saud is nominally ruled by King Fahd but his poor health has left the actual reins of power in the hands of his half-brother, Prince Abdullah. Both are in their seventies. Other princes, mostly Fahd's brothers, hold down such key positions as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior. …

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