FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How a Saudi Billionaire Does Beirut

His yacht rides at anchor off his new $100 million Beirut hotel-resort complex. He opened it last week–it includes four swimming pools, eight restaurants, three bars and a massive shopping arcade–in a blaze of fireworks and laser lights. He is listed as the 11th richest man in the world, worth an estimated lbs13bn.

His name is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the 45-year-old nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. And he would, it seems, like to be prime minister of Lebanon. The proof? Well, at his hotel bash last week, Prince Alwaleed made some pretty nasty comments about Lebanon’s lbs20bn national debt. “Can any one of you brothers and sisters present in this gathering tell me what the expected debt figure will be in the next four or five years?” he asked. “Will its size continue to be 170 per cent of the GDP at the end of that period?”

It was a somewhat unprincely way of sniping at the current Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, who also happens to hold joint Saudi and Lebanese nationality and who, if somewhat less wealthy than Prince Alwaleed, still has a few billions to his name and also holds the leading shareholding in Solidaire, the company rebuilding the centre of Beirut. Many blame Mr Hariri for the country’s debt.

President Lahoud of Lebanon turned up to hear Prince Alwaleed’s speech. The two men get on well–Messrs Lahoud and Hariri famously do not–and Prince Alwaleed also has bonny relations with Syria, an essential for anyone anxious to run Lebanon. The prince, after all, is paying for the reconstruction of a village inundated by last month’s Syrian dam burst. Mr Hariri couldn’t make it to the hotel opening, and thus missed the economic advice of his possible nemesis. His response? “We accept such statements from anyone who wants to build a hotel in Lebanon,” he remarked in what might be called a classic put-down.

The Lebanese could be forgiven for thinking that one Saudi billionaire is quite enough to govern their country. But Alwaleed bin Talal has exemplary forebears: he is the grandson of a former Lebanese prime minister, Riad Solh. He also speaks his mind. For this is the same Alwaleed bin Talal who offered New York $10m towards reconstruction after 11 September–only to have his cheque thrown back in his face by the then mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, for daring to suggest that America take a slightly less pro-Israeli stand in the Middle East.

Prince Alwaleed also provided millions of pounds to repair Lebanese electricity stations after Israel attacked them two years ago. He’s planning yet another hotel in central Beirut. “Every investor has the right to feel secure about his investments,” he told Mr Hariri’s deputy, Ihsam Fares, yet another millionaire. “It is the duty of the state and the government to provide this safety. The investor is like a citizen, he wants to know where the state economy is going.”

So the prince has definitely moved into Lebanese politics. Even his yacht–formerly Donald Trump’s–speaks of money, its massive decks and sleek hull a near-permanent reminder off Pigeon Rocks that even a country with massive debts can attract massive wealth.

A few days ago, residents of Corniche Mazraa, a hot canyon of traffic in west Beirut, were astonished to see thousands of sheets of paper descending on them from a light aircraft, carpeting the road and pavements and apartment blocks in a snow of pictures of a green forest.

They were even more surprised to read the text on the back. Supported by the Lebanese Environment Ministry, each sheet of paper urged the people “not to throw litter on the ground”.

 

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail