The Obscene Wealth of the Saudis
What's it like to be among the richest people in the world? One Cornell and Harvard trained author got an up-close look at the Saudi royal way of life and wrote a book about it. Alan Caruba reviews the outrageous tale.
Some facts: Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserve of 263 billion barrels making it the largest producer and exporter of oil, 11.6 percent of the world’s supply. Oil represents 90 percent of its exports and 75 percent of its revenue. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had strong relations dating back to World War II and yet much of the funding for al Qaeda came from there until it became a threat to its benefactors. Individual Saudis reportedly still provide funding.
Of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks fifteen were Saudis. Others were from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the Wahhabi sect, the most orthodox of all Islamic factions. Though the Saudis are Sunnis, the majority sect of Islam and Iran is Shiite, the two nations resemble each other in their indifference to human rights and the general suppression of rights that Americans and other Western nations take for granted.
I have been a book reviewer for more than fifty years and I keep a watchful eye for the occasional book that says more about its topic than a stack of academic or geo-political books by scholars. Such is the case with Jayne Amelia Larson’s “Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses (plus their servants, nannies, and one royal hairdresser).”
Larson has degrees from Cornell University and Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre Institute. Like so many with aspirations to act in films and television, she headed for Los Angeles, but show business is a tough life to pursue and only a handful find great success. The rest often have to moonlight as Larson did, chauffering to pay the bills.
When members of the Saudi royal family arrive, they require all manner of security and a caravan of limosines to take them where they want to go. Larson would be the only woman driver for one such trip, chosen to drive the princesses, their children, the children’s friends and their nannies, but the full cast included secretaries, tutors, trainers, cooks, doctors, servants, a message therapist, and a royal hairdresser, among others. The logistics required to cater to their every whim is extraordinary.
They also brought with them some of their own furniture despite staying at LA’s most luxurious hotels as well as fine silk rugs, silver serving trays, ornate gilded and ceramic semovars, and “extraordinary coffees, teas, dried fruits, rice, beans, grains, spices, candy, and a rich chocolate that you can get only in the Middle East.”
They arrived with a chest of cash. The Saudis paid for everything with cash and one estimate put the amount at $20 million; $1 million in stacks of hundred-dollar bills weighed about twenty pounds and fits into a five-inch Halliburton attache case. Twenty such cases fit into the chest that was large enough to fit a human body.
America has its billionaires and millionaires, but they would look like busboys beside the Saudi family’s princes and princesses.
Larson, an acute observer, quickly discovered “an elaborate hierarchy and pecking order opervading the royal family’s and accompanying entourage’s behavior at all times. I noticed that no matter the position in even the detail’s hierarchy, everybody wanted to have one beneath them to order around. It was insidious and endless.”
What the princesses were here to do was to shop. They did not shop like Americans. They did not buy one purse, but many purses. “All the booty would be thrown into the back of a waiting van that would make periodic runs back to the hotel to dump the goods. I watched as every week, hundreds of huge moving crates were filled and shipped out to Saudi Arabia to be opened and sorted by the servents back at the palaces of the Kingdom.”
“There was absolutely no regard for what something cost, no inquiry whatever. If they wanted it, they bought it, then bought some more, then bought some more, then bought some more.”
When her seven weeks with the visiting Saudis were finished, Larson figured out she had driven more than 10,000 miles on an average day that could run to eighteen hours, seven days a week. She had heard that the Saudis always tipped handsomely when they left, but because she was a woman, she received a mere pittance.
What Larson got, however, was a closeup look at the obscene wealth of the Saudi royals and a look at a life that some women might envy, but which was a velvet prison, especially for the favored wives whose entire purpose in life was to produce more royal progeny. None of them, unlike Larson, would ever be allowed to drive a car or to go anywhere in the Kingdom without a male relative to supervise. They were segregated in that society and would wear Islamic garb that covered them from head to toe.
It wasn’t just the amount of money that was obscene. It was a lifestyle out of the seventh century. It was a look at what life would be like if these people are ever able to impose their values and restrictions on the world. We got a glimpse at that when Barack Obama bowed to the Saudi king.
Image Credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0(Flikr)/Ammar Abd Rabbo