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
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ACCA/CIMA - St Albans, Hertfordshire

£55000 - £58000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street

£25000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - Londo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness