Saudi Arabia detentions: Living inside ‘five-star prison’


Riyadh’s palatial Ritz-Carlton hotel, branded as “a retreat for those who simply desire the royal treatment”, now finds itself transformed into a nerve center for an audacious manoeuvre by an ambitious crown prince.

It’s not the treatment more than 200 of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most powerful ever expected, and certainly never desired, when 32-year old Mohammed Bin Salman launched what was billed as an unprecedented drive against corruption and abuse of power and privilege in the kingdom.

Three weeks on, Riyadh’s most prestigious hotel is still the talk of the town. But since the midnight raids which snared at least 11 princes and some of the biggest Saudi billionaires, only snippets have surfaced. Rumours swirl around Riyadh and many capitals beyond about what’s really happening inside this gilded prison.

No one goes in or out of its swirling black metal gates now without official permission.

Just past midnight last week, we were allowed to drive in under police escort, down a sweeping avenue towards the sprawling complex washed in golden light.

As we alighted, we were greeted by some of the impeccable hotel staff still offering round the clock five star service. But there was a sterner reception from Saudi officials now involved in this crackdown: no faces to be filmed by our crew; no conversations recorded during a first visit by journalists.

A stay lasting a few hours, surrounded by officials, could never yield a full account. But it provides glimpses of life inside.

Even in the dead of night there are huddles of men, dressed in traditional white robes and red and white chequered headdress, speaking in hushed tones in dark corners of the cavernous lobby. Hardly anyone raises their eyes. Only an occasional tinkle of silver spoons on porcelain tea cups or glasses of foaming café lattes breaks an eerie silence.

 

Please read the full article by Lyse Doucet, on BBC, November 26, 2017


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