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Feature Article
Wedding of the century: Rim bint al-Walid and Abd al-Aziz bin Musa'id 2007-08-01
Prince al-Walid bin Talal planned for his daughter's wedding to be the social event of the decade, if not the century, and pulled out all the stops. The result was a sumptuous affair with a romantic theme. Its extravagance may have been criticized, but this reflects a broad trend in Saudi society, and the event was remarkable only for its scale.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abd al-Aziz wanted to make a splash for the marriage of his only daughter Rim. The eighth-richest man in the world with a worth of over $20bn as the Chairman of the spectacularly successful Kingdom Holdings Group, al-Walid is a significant player in the Saudi economic and social scene, as well as an emerging figure in Lebanon's political landscape - he has a connection through his Lebanese mother, Muna, daughter of Riyad al-Sulh, the first Prime Minister of Lebanon, and has been touted as a future political leader there. Al-Walid has been married several times, but has only two children, Rim and Khalid, by first cousin Dalal bint Saud bin Abd al-Aziz (divorced). Already he had feted his son Khalid with a marriage ceremony lasting three days, but al-Walid wanted Rim's wedding to be truly unforgettable.

Rim had gradauated from university in the United States, and was now engaged to a first cousin once removed, Abd al-Aziz bin Musa'id bin Abd al-Aziz. At first glance, Abd al-Aziz seems a somewhat surprising choice, given the checkered history of the Musa'id family branch - Abd al-Aziz' half-brother Faysal was the assassin of King Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz in 1975. The mother of the deranged Faysal bin Musa'id was Watfa bin Muhammad bin Talal, a member of the Al Rashid family, former rulers of the principality of Ha'il, who battled with the Al Saud for supremacy in the Arabian peninsula in the early years of the last century. Musa'id married Watfa after the capture of Ha'il in 1921, but this relationship caused difficulty after King Faysal was assassinated, when many suspected that the Al Rashid, still bitter over their defeat at the hands of Ibn Saud, were behind the plot. Musa'id himself is considered unstable, which has severely impeded the political ambitions of his sons. Abd al-Rahman bin Musa'id, however, is a highly-regarded poet, and the family no longer seems to be tainted by past associations.

For the wedding, no expense was to be spared for a magnificent display (a trend in Saudi society not limited to the royals). The ceremonies themselves lasted five days (as opposed to three for al-Walid's son Khalid), the invitations for which were printed in gold leaf. It was originally proposed that the five day event be spread throughout three countries, but this proved impractical, and the wedding centered on Riyadh instead. Still, there was an international element, as the buffet meals were made at al-Walid's Hotel George V in Paris, and flown in daily, along with freshly-cut flowers. The bride's dress was designed by John Louis Shearer, and her hair was by the Lebanese stylist Tony Mendelk, who stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel but set up a special pavilion for his work. Falling close to the date of St. Valentine's Day (whose celebration is not surprisingly frowned upon in the Kingdom), the festivities had a romantic Valentine's theme.

The event took place on a Wednesday evening in February (the 28th), in the heart of Riyadh at the Cultural Palace in the Embassy District (Ulaya), the favored spot for royal family weddings. The streets leading to the palace were brightly adorned for a festive atmosphere, but security was tight, with a massive police presence. Saudi police restricted access to the area by blocking traffic for miles around, and magnetic entry cards, specially made for the occasion, were required to be shown by all drivers entering by the designated route, through King Fahd street. Rim arrived in a white stretch limousine.

The ceremony afterwards at the Four Seasons Hotel (owned by al-Walid) was held in two rooms, one for the ladies, in the main ballroom, and the other in a lounge for the prince and his guests, although they were able to follow the ceremony via giant screens set up in the Hall. By all accounts, the ladies had a far better time, but this is common at Saudi weddings, where the men's celebration is more restrained.

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