Saudi Arabia: Death of a King

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Because ex-King Saud's doctors had recommended that regular quaffing of camel milk might prolong his life, a Thracian camel was tied up behind the plush Kavouri Hotel near Athens.

Parked near by was a huge blue and silver trailer always ready to roll off for a royal romp. Saud was accompanied in exile by a fleet of flashy cars, 20 chauffeurs and an entourage that occupied 60 of the hotel's 72 rooms at a monthly rate of nearly $67,000. He was as wealthy as any king need be, and wealthier than almost any are these days. Reasonably accurate guesses pegged his bank balance at some $600 million, drawn from royalties on the oil that has been gushing for years from beneath the golden sands of Saudi Arabia.

For all those riches, however, the life of King Saud ibn Abdul Aziz al Fais al al Saud was poor in many of the things which the world's more ordinary people set store by. His health was bad. His favorite sons proved disap pointing and profligate. Like many exorbitantly rich men, he was gnawed at times by doubts as to the sincerity of his professed friends. He ruled Saudi Arabia for only eleven of his 67 years, then was forced by his own brother to surrender the throne. Born in exile in Kuwait, where his parents had taken refuge from rival leaders, he died last week in exile as well.

The lives of many of the rulers of the oil-rich Arab states are marked by a special brand of gilt-edged vulgarity. Saud was perhaps the leading exponent of the tradition. During his reign he maintained one of the more ostentatious harems in the Middle East: the number of concubines averaged from 80 to 120, and agents in Beirut and other capitals kept it well-stocked. To facilitate his choice of companions for the night, he reportedly installed closed-circuit television.

In obedience to Moslem law, he never had more than four wives at a time, but divorce was simple and the wives many. No one seems to know how many children he sired, although one count puts it at 45 sons and 46 daughters. (One report speaks of the proud moment when three wives gave birth to three children on the same day.)

Those favorite sons who lived with him during his last exile in Athens caused him severe problems: flitting about town in their $25,000 Maseratis, they were soon involved in eight major auto accidents that caused two deaths. Saud paid for all damages, but the Greeks were not appeased. The King then threatened to give his sons camels to ride instead of Maseratis but finally settled for assigning chauffeurs to the boys' cars.

Politically, Saud had also had his troubles in recent years. Forced from his throne in Riyadh by his brother, who now rules as King Feisal, he never gave up his hopes of returning. In late 1966, for instance, Saud left Athens for Cairo, planning to work with Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser to overthrow Feisal. But the alliance produced few results, and Saud was back in Athens by the following autumn.

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