Monday, February 28, 2011

Saudi Royals Have Their Marie Antoinette Moment

If you follow the revelations of Wikileaks, you can't help but wonder if Saudi Arabia could be next on the list of Arab nations  to topple a family run regime in favor of democracy.  Clearly, Saudi King Abdullah was wondering too, when in the wake of  doings in Egypt and Tunisia, he hot-footed it home over a week ago  with a hastily put together 37 billion dollar package of financial largesse for Saudis of more modest means.

Though the current king has been, to his credit, trying to reign in the more obvious excesses of the Royal family since he took the throne, Wikileaks has newly released  American diplomatic cables going back to 1996 which show the depth of the problem and , in the current climate in the region, the dangers of it.  offers details of the November 1996 cable
"The most common mechanism for distributing Saudi Arabia's wealth to the royal family is the formal, budgeted system of monthly stipends that members of the Al Saud family receive, according to the cable. Managed by the Ministry of Finance's "Office of Decisions and Rules", which acts like a kind of welfare office for Saudi royalty, the royal stipends in the mid-1990s ran from about $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $200,000-$270,000 a month for one of the surviving sons of Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

Grandchildren received around $27,000 a month, "according to one contact familiar with the stipends" system, the cable says. Great-grandchildren received about $13,000 and great-great- grandchildren $8,000 a month.

"Bonus payments are available for marriage and palace building," according to the cable, which estimates that the system cost the country, which had an annual budget of $40 billion at the time, some $2 billion a year. "

And for those royals for whom a generous allowance is just not enough, there are a variety of shady practices available such as  the royal skimming from the approximately ten billion in annual off budget spending or confiscating the land of ordinary people to resell at inflated prices for government projects, not to mention the tendency of Saudi royals to borrow from commercial banks and simply not repay the loans.

Talk about " let them eat cake"  Compared to these excesses, 37 billion seems like a drop in the bucket.
There is a Facebook call out for a day of rage protest in Saudi Arabia on March 11th.. Circle your calendars folks and fasten your seatbelts, one way or another this is going to be a bumpy ride.

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