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Feature Article
2017-03-12

An Asian Tour: Opportunity At Home?

King Salman's Asian tour left the Crown Prince in charge of affairs as his deputy. But while the king's visit to Indonesia garnered worldwide attention for the displays of wealth and the size of his retinue, Muhammad bin Nayif was presented with a golden opportunity to raise his profile at home.

by Richard Smith

As part of his Asian tour, the king made his first stop in Malaysia, where state oil giant Saudi Aramco signed a $7 billion deal to take a 50 per cent stake in a Malaysian oil refinery. Salman's next leg took him to the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, the first visit by a Saudi monarch in 47 years. Also on the itinerary are Japan, Brunei, China and the Maldives. Although substantive work took place, such as the usual "extensive bilateral talks", what made tabloid (and other media) headlines was the remarkable fixture of the king's lavish and ultra-expensive lifestyle.

Flanked by an entourage of 1,500, which included around 800 are delegates, 25 princes, 100 personal protection officers, and several government ministers, King Salman also brought 459 tonnes of luggage for his nine day trip. His cargo was split into two separate lots, one shipment of 63 metric tons preceded him to East Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport (HLP) while the second shipment of 396 metric tons was sent to Bali, where the king planned to spend a few days on holiday. Four Boeing 747s, two Boeing B777s, and two Hercules C-130s were involved in the effort to transport the luggage over. The cargo included two Mercedes Benz S600 luxury sedans and two electric escalators for cargo handling. Described as a "logistical feat" of transportation, housing and feeding, 27 flights in, and 9 out were laid on.

Once in Jakarta, the king descended from his private plane in a customized gold-colored escalator, his personal bodyguard close at his side, this time wearing civilian clothes. Enthusiastic crowds, including groups of flag-waving schoolchildren and tens of thousands of students, lined the route of travel from the airport to the neighboring city of Bogor to watch the heavy guarded convoy of vehicles carrying the king. Salman and his entourage sped through pouring rain to Bogor and its presidential palace, where a military band played the Indonesian national anthem. There was some debate over whether or not to cover the ubiquitous statues of naked men and women in the palace grounds, given concerns that the monarch's Muslim sensibilities might be offended. In the end, some of the naked statues in Bogor Palace, where the king met with President Joko Widodo, were covered with cloth, as a sign of respect, but most remained in place as they were.

About 10,000 Indonesian security personnel were deployed to protect the king and his entourage, with an additional squadron of fighter jets on high alert. Four luxury hotels in central Jarkata, including the Raffles, JW Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton, were booked in their entirety. More than 150 chefs were on hand to provide round the clock halal Middle Eastern and local food to the party, including specialty grilled seafood and exotic fruits.

Next on the itinerary was a short vacation in the predominantly Hindu island of Bali, which ended up being extended to March 12, three days longer than originally anticipated. This of course involved another airlift, with an initial six Boeing planes and one Hercules (some members of the group were traveling back and forth to and from Bali, while other new members were arriving on the island at any time). Twenty large buses, bookended by police and ambulance escorts, carried the party. Salman stayed a few steps from the beach, where he and his entourage rented multiple luxury hotels, including one at the renowned Bulgari resort in the Nusa Dua area, where the most exclusive villa costs up to $4,400 a night.

Eager to avoid the scandal which accompanied his trip to the south of France two years ago, when the entire beachfront was closed off to locals for the duration of Salman's stay at his villa, it was decided to keep the beach open. Instead, hotel management had special walkways built and erected bamboo fencing covered in white fabric to provide some privacy.

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Move, Countermove - Searching For Equilibrium?

The Deputy Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, although facing pressure on multiple fronts, has skillfully outmanouevred his adversaries by backing them into a corner. By making himself indispensable, he forces potential challengers to his place in the succession to accept an outcome they would not otherwise have chosen.

OPEC Deal: Tactical Retreat or Admission of Failure?

At first sight, the recent deal to cut oil production among OPEC members appears to be an admission by Saudi Arabia that its strategy to maximize the flow of crude and suppress prices has been a failure. Does backing down now represent a long-term shift in outlook, or did an improving economic outlook allow some breathing room?

A Royal Execution: Politics Or Principle?

News that Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir had been executed for murder elicited widespread praise from within the Kingdom for the equal treatment under the law the royal's punishment represented. But was the high-profile act a response to a growing realization by the royal family that the turbulent pace of change may be putting the social compact under increasing stress?

Parisian Affairs - A Cautionary Tale?

As the deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, travels the world showcasing his ambitious plans for the Kingdom's future, his sister's escapades in France cast an unfavorable light on the royal family. Does the apparent contradiction between words and action highlight a flaw in the prince's vision?

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