Saudi Arabia loses its head


Foreign heads of state have been rolling into Riyadh, to prostrate themselves at the feet of the world’s most vicious monarchy, as it undergoes a transition from one family head to another.

Francois Hollande, David Cameron, even Barack Obama himself are altering their best-laid plans to hightail it to pay their respects to one of the longest serving world leaders, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

They join political heavyweights and royal representatives from places as diverse as Pakistan, Denmark, Spain and even Iran who’ve paid personal homage or sent messages of deep condolences.

Only Germany stands apart, sending ex-President Christian Wulff instead of a serving official and showing some diplomatic steel yesterday by purportedly cutting off arms sales to the Saudis.

Abdullah was smoothly replaced by his half-brother, the accomplished Salman, under the Wahhabi regime’s system of patronage which manages to reconcile the competing interests of incredibly wealthy men – half-brothers-in-arms and products of a polygamy programme which sits at the top of the world’s greatest incarnation of misogyny.

The reasons why this week has already won the 2015 World Fawning Competition are not hard to divine. Saudi oil money is desperately sought to prop up euro and dollar economies which are in the doldrums as decades of financial globalisation take their toll.

Some less wealthy countries too are beholden, caught up in the despicable and corrupt trade of innocent migrant workers into a slavery system matched only by 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar for its brutality.

Some of the economic interests are disarmingly direct and devoid of principle. The UK’s Justice Department is bidding to administer a chunk of the Saudi detention system, a lucrative deal which the British presence at the Saudi Power Transition might help secure.

A successful bid could prove a challenge however, as the UK has no recent experience in preparing blameless domestic workers for execution, thieves for amputation or indeed for the flogging of bloggers. Saudi executions are on the rise, with 83 beheadings in 2014 and at least 13 already this year.

The House of Saud’s economic clout is also increasingly matched by its geopolitical shenanigans, as it successfully combines sponsorship of terrorism with the status of leading lieutenant in the War against Terror.

Its condolences to the French over Charlie Hebdo were quickly subsumed by a return to its fundamentalist rhetoric.

It’s harder to find Saudi condolences to Nigeria when Boko Haram massacred 2,000 defenceless people the same week, but then again one doesn’t want to criticize one’s own offspring.

Global media has begun to convulse over this week’s craven behavior, but it may not last.

Rupert Murdoch risks losing control of his realm if he falls foul of Abdullah’s nephew Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, second largest voting shareholder in the ageing media warhorse’s empire.

Hopefully Alwaleed’s US$300m stake in Twitter won’t dampen social media scrutiny.

One thing is for certain. The G20 can only ever hold 19 summits.

The heads of the world’s biggest economies could never gather in such a country to plot the course of the future.