Saudi Arabia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. For a lot of people around the globe it can be impossible to imagine living in a society that is so dominated by strict religious rules. Rules like sexes need to remain separate in public, no dancing, and not allowing women out without their male guardian.
These are not the only interesting things about Saudi Arabia though, It is one of the richest countries in the world with a ruling royal family. A family whose lifestyle stands in stark contrast to its conservative and religious population is a juxtaposition that people can’t get enough off. It appears that the international community is more aware of the royal families lifestyles than their fellow citizens and it is in the best interests of the royal family to keep it that way.
The Saudi royal family is notorious around the globe for their lavish and wild lifestyles. They are all descendants of Ibn Saud who conquered and unified the Arab tribes in the region that then became Saudi Arabia. He became king in 1932, and the 6 kings since him have all been his sons. The current king is King Salman who took over the crown when his older brother King Abdullah passed away in 2015. The royals live and play by their own rules in Saudi Arabia but they have to juggle that with still being discreet as to not anger the Kingdoms civil population. Here are 15 things you did not know about the Saudi Royal Family.
15 Stealing from their citizens
The members of the House of Al-Saud have invested in all kinds of businesses around the world, and it makes sense that when you have that much money you would invest it. There is also a dark side to their earnings though which was exposed in a Wikileak back in 2011. They take advantage of their own citizens and it’s particularly horrible because they have everything and the people their taking advantage of have nothing in comparison. In the cable it wrote ‘Princes also use their clout to confiscate land from commoners, especially if it is known to be the site for an upcoming project and can be quickly resold to the government for a profit.” The family has also been accused of being heavily involved in the black market.
14 Horrific treatment against women
The way that Saudi Arabian culture treats women is horrific, there is no question about that. One may mistakenly believe that since the Royal family is exposed to so much global culture they would have a different approach to women, and while certainly some of them are progressive, others members are a direct product of their environment. We told you about the bars and clubs that Royals have built into their palaces but some of them have something even darker. In ‘Diary of a Princess’ which was written by a Saudi princess under an alias with the help of Jean Sasson, she wrote of when she went to visit a very prominent member of their family in his huge palace. When she went to go look for one of her daughters who had wondered off, they came across the harem that was kept on the grounds. It was full of women and girls, a lot underage that were there to just serve the male members of the family.
13 Horrible with money
The Wikileaks we have mentioned that came out about the family also exposed how poorly most of the princes manage their money. Even though the Kingdom is set up in a way to take care of them, a lot of their money is squandered. Wikileaks states that there are more non-royal billionaires in Saudi Arabia then royal ones. This says a lot considering how easy the Kingdom has made everything for them and is a testament to their excessive and spoiled lifestyles. Of course this is not the case for every member of the family, but a shockingly high number of Princes are very bad at money so much so that most Saudi Arabian banks will not even loan them money because they have a reputation for not paying it back.
12 They've put princesses in jail
Just because you a member of the Royal family does not mean you are untouchable though, especially if you are a girl. The previous late King Abdullah put his 4 daughters, Princesses Jawaher, Sahar, Hala, and Maha under house arrest over a decade ago, and after his death their situation has not changed but seems to have gotten worse. The New York Post wrote about them in 2014 and stated that they do not receive enough food, are forced to live in horrible conditions, and do not have access to medical care. While their father was still alive the girls had internet access and would tweet about their plight. Since his death their twitter accounts have been deleted signifying things have not gotten worse for them. Amnesty International and Prince Charles have gotten involved and called for their release, but as of now no one is sure what the state of the Princesses is. You may be wondering what the horrible thing they did to deserve to be imprisoned by their own father and made to live in prison conditions for over a decade. Well, they made the mistake of speaking out for women’s rights which in Saudi Arabia is a big no no, even if you are a royal.
11 Royal family members try to escape for safety reasons
For all intents and purposes, the royals live a good life in Saudi Arabia especially when compared to the average citizen. Especially the male members. This does not mean that all of them are willing to stay and put up with the hypocrisy and often cruel dealings of the family. There are dissident members some of which live in secret and others more publicly who actively choose to speak out against their family. One member is Prince Khalid Bin Farhan al-Saud who lives in Germany. Just last year he put the royal family on blast stating ‘The people have less money than before, but the royal family have the same. There is a lot of state money which is concealed from the budget, which is determined by the King alone.’ The mother of the four jailed princesses, Alanoud Al Fayez also ran away from Saudi Arabia because of the cruel treatment at the hands of her husband King Abdullah. She had hoped he would be kinder to his daughters, which we know did not end up being the case. She is also speaking out about the plight of her daughters and the realities of Saudi Arabia.
10 Flying their cars to Europe
The love that the Saudi royal family has for Europe is well known and documented. When you have al the money in the world you are going to go the fashion capitals to shop, because you can. They can always be found in London and Paris. What is a royal to do though when they want to spend the summer in Europe but they want to bring over their super luxury customized vehicle?
Well they fly it over of course, with the price starting at 30 thousand dollars at least. If you see a gold plated Range Rover in front of Harrods in London, it is almost 100 percent a Saudi royal. Hey, when you have a gold plated car you bring it with you everywhere. The one thing the family seemingly isn't, is conservative.
9 It pays to be Royal
The government bankrolls their extravagant lifestyles. While most of them have their own business ventures, if you are a member of the House of Al Saud you get a direct deposit into your bank account every month. This information came out in the Wikileaks cables released back in 2011. It is assumed that the amount of money members of the family receive have only increased since then. The sons of Ibn Saud, receive around 200- 300 thousand per month. Grandchildren receive around 27 thousand. This extends all the way down to great-great grandchildren who receive around 8,000 thousand. The reason this is somewhat controversial is because of the amount of poverty in Saudi Arabia, and some people take issue with the fact that literally thousands of people are being supported by the government when the government should be working in everyone’s favor.
8 Immunity from the religious police
Saudi Arabia has a religious police, called The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They walk the streets and make sure that the sexes stay separated; everyone is dressed the way they should be, and just overall harass citizens with their ridiculous rules. They are very strict and everyone does their best to stay off their radar, because they are pretty ruthless and work to enforce Sharia law which is not a very forgiving or benevolent code of law. There is obviously an agreement in place between the religious police and the royal family because those rules do not pertain to them, and behind the gates of their massive mansions all the things Saudi Arabia has banned happen freely. They still have to be discreet, but they find a way to do what they want in the conservative kingdom.
7 Secret rehabs
Drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden in the Kingdom, so this of course means that there are no rehabs there. If you are caught drinking in Saudi Arabia you will be getting at least 80 lashes, but the number is usually much higher. The royal family though really likes to indulge, and they are just as susceptible to alcohol and drug abuse as anyone. So what happens to royals when they need treatment for their addictions? Yes some of them travel out of the country, but they do actually have rehabs in Saudi Arabia just for royals. These of course are secret and not publicly known to exist. There would be a massive public outcry if it got out that the royal family has rehabs just for them in the country because a country that bans alcohol and drugs certainly has no need for rehabs, right?
6 Public vs. private persona
Most people who have a public profile have a public vs private persona, but probably not as radically different as the Saudi royal families public and private personas. Publicly they have to appear very pious and religious because Islam is so integral to the cultural identity of Saudi Arabia and the royal family has to be an expression of that. But, even though Saudi Arabia is one of the most strictly religious countries in the world, the royal family is not the reason for it even though they play the part well. Even though the country is an absolute monarchy and the King seemingly holds all the power, the reality is he is trying to keep the religious fanatics there happy. And like we mentioned, it’s not like his family has to deal with the strict rules that normal citizens. He needs that support to retain power so it is a willing compromise.
5 Protection for the Royal Family is super intense
Protection for the royal family is taken very seriously, and they have a specific way of ensuring loyalty from bodyguards. Saudi Arabian Princes have an affinity for a specific kind of bodyguard, called Khawi. These bodyguards mostly hail from Nigeria, but other African nations as well. They are brought to Saudi Arabia at a young age and actually grow up with the prince they are meant to be protecting, so they are always around the same age. This practice seems to ensure loyalty and a deep bond. Khawi comes from the Arabic word ‘akh’ which means brother which signifies how close they view themselves to their bodyguards. This seems like a really smart idea, but kind of horrific when you realize children are being separated from their families and brought to Saudi Arabia to live out their lives serving someone else.
4 Bars built into their palaces
We aren't talking about a small basement bar where you stash your nice whiskey. These are full on entrainment centers in their homes. There are no bars, nightclubs, or places to party in Saudi Arabia. You can just forget it. Like we mentioned sexes need to remain separate in public places so they are not about to let people dance and drink together in public! They have shopping malls that are just for women! Which in a way, could be kind of nice. But the Royals don’t want to have to hop on a plane every time they want to dance and have a good time so a lot of them have huge bars and clubs built into their homes so they can just host there. The stories about the kind of parties they have show that excessive indulgence is a regular part of their lives.
3 Regular people can ask Royals for help
The Majlis is a time and place that people can have face to face time with a royal family member and ask them for their help. Whether they are in a predicament with the law and need their intervention, money, or just plain advice it is very important in Saudi Arabia. It has always been employed by Saudi Kings because it is an important part of Islamic ideology to have a leader that is accessible to his people. While his sons act as proxies for him, this is one of the most positive aspects of Saudi Arabian culture. The royal family has been known to interfere when the law comes down too harshly on people and they can be extremely generous to their citizens.
2 Special privileges
At this point in the list, you are well aware that the Saudi royal family lives and plays by a very different set of rules than the average citizen of Saudi Arabia. One of these special privileges that was exposed in a Wikileak cable shows how their royal status allows them to make money very easily. Saudi Arabia has an expat labour program that allows Saudi citizens to sponsor up to 5 workers. For most middle class families this means they can hire a maid and driver. If you are a royal, you can sponsor over 100 workers who are referred to as ‘freelancers.’ They in turn pay the royal a certain amount of money for the sponsorship making this a nice little paid side gig for royals. And yes, there is a demand to work there especially from the more impoverished regions surrounding it. Saudi Arabia is seen as extremely wealthy, and for the desperate a good option.
1 Massive family tree
When people hear the term family, they picture being able to name every member of it. The house of Al-Saud though is massive and the branches of its family tree go very far. Ibn Saud has thousands of descendants but when you consider the fact that he had 24 wives and children from almost each wife, it is easy to see how the number grows very quickly. He has over 30 sons who have all gone on to have massive families themselves and his grandchildren number over a thousand. There are over 5,000 princes in the family alone! And every single member of the family receives money from the Saudi government because of their royal lineage. That is a whole lot of people to support. Can you imagine your family tree containing thousands of members?