Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Sep 5th, 2015

Salman Fishing in Washington

When the recently installed monarch of Saudi Arabia travels, it makes Donald Trump look like a homeless man in the old Bowery.

Earlier this summer the billionaire king created a scene on the Riviera, when his bikini-less entourage of some 1,000 supported by 400 luxury saloon car drivers closed down a section of public beach. Local florists were happy since the royals were ordering up to 15,000 flowers each day. This closure so infuriated the local sun bathers that they organized a protest by swimming in the nude past his luxurious accommodation.

On Thursday, Salman’s traveling show arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. with a fleet of dozens of black Mercedes at the ready. The king is finally meeting with President Obama on the latter’s home turf. In Washington D.C., Salman’s party has taken over the entire Four Seasons Hotel, all 222 rooms. “‘Everything is gold,’ says one Four Seasons regular, who spied the deliveries arriving at the hotel. ‘Gold mirrors, gold end tables, gold lamps, even gold hat racks.’” On top of this and just about every surface around there are red carpets so the king’s feet never have to touch mere asphalt.

On this political fishing expedition, Salman and Obama will be discussing two, and hopefully more, major issues splitting the Middle East apart. One is the Iran nuclear deal, which the Saudis are reluctant to support, since they see Iran as their number one enemy in the region. Not surprisingly, the Saudis have indicated with this visit that they are “satisfied” with the deal, at least in public. The second issue is the ongoing war in Yemen, which has created a humanitarian crisis rivaling the destruction and refugee problem in Syria. It appears that neither the Saudis nor the Republicans in Congress will be able to derail the negotiated deal with Iran, so some kind of tit-for-tat needs to go to Salman on this trip. Obama is willing to let the Saudis continue the bombing in Yemen with no end in sight, not the least because the Saudis are spending millions, if not billions, on American weapons. Oil prices may have plummeted, but the money for weapons is an open tap.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits at the bottom of the stairs as King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia deplanes from his Boeing 747 after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, on September 3, 2015, to visit President Barack Obama (photo: State Department / Public Domain).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits at the bottom of the stairs as King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia deplanes from his Boeing 747 after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, on September 3, 2015, to visit President Barack Obama (photo: State Department / Public Domain).

I am not an accountant, but I suspect that Salman’s recent trips, including a summer outing in Morocco, have cost millions of dollars for his huge entourage and taste for luxury. After all, he is a king, and royalty never travels economy class. But two images come to my mind as I see the limousines lined up to shuttle the royals to gold-plated, red-carpeted treatment in the bastion of democracy. First, I cannot get out of my mind the picture this week of a Syrian baby washed up dead on the beach at Bodrum in Turkey. That baby and his family, most of whom also perished, had no limousines waiting for him, no room with perfume-scented pillows and gold-plated faucets, no VIP treatment. Yet that baby was forced out of home by a brutal battle between religious zealots supported by Saudi Arabia and the dictatorial regime of Assad. That baby was being taken to Greece in a desperate gamble because none of the oil-rich countries of fellow Muslims will accept Syrian refugees.

The other image is a reflection on what the Prophet Muhammad would do if he was around to see how his followers are behaving today. There were no Mercedes limousines around at the time of the Prophet, just simple camels. I do not remember reading in the biography of Muhammad that his humble home was full of gold or had red carpets so that his feet did not touch the hot sand of Medina or Mecca. Although he was the Prophet, I cannot find any hadith that says he thought himself a king. When Abu Sufyan was questioned by the Byzantine Heraclius about Muhammad, it was noted that there were no kings in Muhammad’s ancestry. So then, we may ask WWMD? Or, at least, what might Muhammad do? Would he travel in luxury, demanding gold and red carpets or would he hold a dead baby in his arms and weep? You decide.

About the Author

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Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, a Senior Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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