Ailing Saudi king on £4m a day vacation

King Fahd, the 82-year-old ruler of Saudi Arabia, who has been in a Geneva clinic since May, has decamped to his marble palace on the Costa del Sol amid mounting fears over his health and speculation about the future of his oil-rich kingdom should he fail to recover.

Diabetic, arthritic and overweight, King Fahd is still suffering the effects of a stroke in 1995 and his condition is said to be unstable after eye surgery in Switzerland. He is attended by hundreds of courtiers, relatives and hangers-on, all dependent on his favour for their political power and ostentatious wealth.

King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz al Saud flew to Malaga airport yesterday in his private 747 jet accompanied by three aircraft, one of them kitted out as a hospital. He was gently lowered from the 747 in a lift, settled in a wheelchair and fussed over by some of his 350 attendants, who manoeuvred him into his armour-plated Mercedes with hydraulic seats and tinted windows, which had been transported on one of the planes.

A caravan of 50 black Mercedes cars, several buses, lorries laden with equipment and a mobile intensive care unit made its way through cleared streets to his Mar Mar palace, a gleaming replica of the United States White House, which nestles in wooded hills along Marbella's golden mile.

The procession was accompanied by Spanish police vehicles, a helicopter and forces of the King's personal guard, many of whom had arrived several days earlier to check the efficiency of the palace's security measures. The 234ft royal yacht, the Al Diriyah, is docked at Marbella's glitzy Puerto Banus marina.

When King Fahd last summered in Marbella in 1999, he and his vast retinue spent €90m. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, jewellers and florists are waiting expectantly after estimates that the royal party will this time spend up to €6m (£4m) a day.

A local florist is to supply €1,500 of fresh flowers to the palace daily during the royal visit. Five hundred mobile phones have been ordered, the palace will receive 50 specially ordered cakes a day and a direct line of credit has been set up with the nearest branch of a leading department store, which is to remain open round the clock to satisfy instantly every royal whim.

News of the largesse of the man locals call King Midas has affected even unemployed Moroccans, 200 of whom queued outside the palace gates yesterday hoping to be employed as a gardener, chauffeur, kitchen hand or cleaner. They seemed undeterred by reports from those who worked for the Saudi royal family last time. They were quoted in the Spanish press as saying that their wealthy employers were generous with salaries and tips but treated them "like dogs".

The palace contains within its grounds a new hospital wing with an operating theatre, a sophisticated telecommunications centre, luxury villas for close family and courtiers, and servants' quarters.

The rest of the King's support network, expected to swell to 3,000 with those flying from Geneva and Ryadh in coming days, will be housed in luxury mansions near by, plus hundreds of rooms and suites in hotels in Marbella, Estepona and Fuengirola. A plane will fly in weekly from Ryadh bringing the King water from Mecca, dates, lamb, rice and spices.

King Fahd usually meets international dignitaries while in Spain, and is expected this time to receive Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State. General Powell is among those most anxious about the health of the ruler of the richest country in the Middle East and America's staunchest ally in the region.

Behind the mind-boggling displays of wealth lurk fears that the glory days of the House of Saud are ending. With no clear line of succession, the death of King Fahd is expected to unleash a power struggle among rival pretenders to the throne that could fatally weaken the ruling family.

Unconfirmed reports say that within Saudi Arabia's hermetic secrecy, anti-American unrest, even revolutionary fervour, is growing. Western expatriates, alarmed by rumours of a royal power struggle after King Fahd's death that could presage upheaval and bloody reprisals, are quietly leaving. This may be the last summer King Midas splashes his money around Marbella.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower