Beirut Stories

There is no law that says you have to be a Saudi billionaire to bid for political power in Lebanon but it does seem to help; plus, a novel way of clearing the city of litter

His yacht rides at anchor off his new £100m Beirut hotel-resort complex. He opened it last week – it includes four swimming pools, eight restaurants, three bars and a massive shopping arcade – in a blaze of fireworks and laser lights. He is listed as the 11th richest man in the world, worth an estimated £13bn.

His name is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the 45-year-old nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. And he would, it seems, like to be prime minister of Lebanon. The proof? Well, at his hotel bash last week, Prince Alwaleed made some pretty nasty comments about Lebanon's £20bn national debt. "Can any one of you brothers and sisters present in this gathering tell me what the expected debt figure will be in the next four or five years?" he asked. "Will its size continue to be 170 per cent of the GDP at the end of that period?"

It was a somewhat unprincely way of sniping at the current Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, who also happens to hold joint Saudi and Lebanese nationality and who, if somewhat less wealthy than Prince Alwaleed, still has a few billions to his name and also holds the leading shareholding in Solidaire, the company rebuilding the centre of Beirut. Many blame Mr Hariri for the country's debt.

President Lahoud of Lebanon turned up to hear Prince Alwaleed's speech. The two men get on well – Messrs Lahoud and Hariri famously do not – and Prince Alwaleed also has bonny relations with Syria, an essential for anyone anxious to run Lebanon. The prince, after all, is paying for the reconstruction of a village inundated by last month's Syrian dam burst. Mr Hariri couldn't make it to the hotel opening, and thus missed the economic advice of his possible nemesis. His response? "We accept such statements from anyone who wants to build a hotel in Lebanon," he remarked in what might be called a classic put-down.

The Lebanese could be forgiven for thinking that one Saudi billionaire is quite enough to govern their country. But Alwaleed bin Talal has exemplary forebears: he is the grandson of a former Lebanese prime minister, Riad Solh. He also speaks his mind. For this is the same Alwaleed bin Talal who offered New York $10m towards reconstruction after 11 September – only to have his cheque thrown back in his face by the then mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, for daring to suggest that America take a slightly less pro-Israeli stand in the Middle East.

Prince Alwaleed also provided millions of pounds to repair Lebanese electricity stations after Israel attacked them two years ago. He's planning yet another hotel in central Beirut. "Every investor has the right to feel secure about his investments," he told Mr Hariri's deputy, Ihsam Fares, yet another millionaire. "It is the duty of the state and the government to provide this safety. The investor is like a citizen, he wants to know where the state economy is going."

So the prince has definitely moved into Lebanese politics. Even his yacht – formerly Donald Trump's – speaks of money, its massive decks and sleek hull a near-permanent reminder off Pigeon Rocks that even a country with massive debts can attract massive wealth.

A few days ago, residents of Corniche Mazraa, a hot canyon of traffic in west Beirut, were astonished to see thousands of sheets of paper descending on them from a light aircraft, carpeting the road and pavements and apartment blocks in a snow of pictures of a green forest.

They were even more surprised to read the text on the back. Supported by the Lebanese Environment Ministry, each sheet of paper urged the people "not to throw litter on the ground".

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album