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The Predator King
Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent
He likes his favourite toys to be in good repair. In fact King Mohamed VI of Morocco has been known to fly his Aston Martin on a Hercules transporter to the manufacturer in Britain just for a tune-up.
More than 5m of his subjects live on less than £1 a day. But “His Majesty”, as even close family members must call him, does not have to scrimp or save, for the people’s generosity is limitless. He gets £26m (€31m) a year in public funds as “pocket money”, which he spends as he pleases, according to the authors of Le Roi Prédateur (The Predator King).
The book, which was published in Paris this month, offers a rare insight into the extraordinarily lavish domain of one of the world’s last absolute monarchs. He spends £1m a year on pet food and twice that on his wardrobe.
His 12 palaces are kept fully staffed, air-conditioned at a steady 17C and stocked with every delicacy known to man on the off-chance that Mohamed might drop in. The palaces cost taxpayers £1m a day to run but the king uses only four of them.
Such extravagance highlights an intriguing mystery of the so-called Arab spring: how have the Middle East’s corrupt and profligate monarchies managed to survive the anger that has toppled so many of the region’s other regimes?
From Bahrain to Jordan, emirs and kings have faced protests. Yet not one of them has been forced to flee like Tunisia’s Zine Ben Ali, been forced to resign like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, or been captured and killed like Muammar Gadaffi, the former Libyan dictator.
Moroccans revere their monarch, who, at 48, is a different breed from the hopelessly out-of-touch geriatrics who governed Egypt and Tunisia. In 2002 he married Princess Lalla Salma, who attended Prince William’s wedding last year and is the first wife of a Moroccan monarch to have been publicly acknowledged and given a royal title.
Yet tolerance of the palace excesses is waning, say Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent, the book’s journalist authors, who claim to have had access to palace sources.
The king’s inauguration ceremony in 1999, when he was introduced to the people as the “the king of the poor”, seems like a distant memory.
Not content with draining the state’s coffers, “King Midas” has got his hands on the economy, too. Nowadays critics call him “chief executive of Morocco Inc” because he controls so much of the north African country’s agriculture and industry through various royal holding companies.
With a fortune estimated at £2 billion he has become richer even than the rulers of many oil-producing states. “He has taken over all of the key sectors of the economy,” says the book. “He is the country’s foremost banker, insurer, exporter and agricultural producer.”
His taste for luxury is exemplified not least in his collection of flashy cars. “Almost every morning he demands around a dozen cars from his collection to be paraded before him to help him decide which one he wants to use. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Maybach ... he has quite a choice.”
When it comes to tailoring, only the best will do. He was once reported to have spent £35,000 in London on a cashmere overcoat. On foreign trips it is not unusual for him to be accompanied by 300 guests dispersed in various aircraft. His private jet has its own gym.
With the flashy lifestyle goes a volatile, capricious temperament and the king, who suffered severe corporal punishment at the hands of King Hassan II, his father, is known for his violent rages, in which he lashes out at his aides.
None of it stops French public figures trying to find favour with him. Many, such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced Socialist politician and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have holiday homes in Marrakesh; Jacques Chirac, the former French president, who was a friend of Mohamed’s father, is often to be found by the poolside of the luxury Gazelle d’Or hotel in Taroudant.
French support counts for nothing in the eyes of the mob, however, and Mohamed cleverly pre-empted the Arab spring protests last year by rewriting his country’s constitution and giving greater power to elected politicians. Under the new rules he has also kept a firm grip on security, the army and religious affairs: he knows that his people are angry.
Rampant corruption stretches into the palace, according to cables from the American embassy that were released by WikiLeaks. One ambassador complained in a cable to Washington of “the appalling greed of those close to” the king.
“Major institutions of the Moroccan state are used by the palace to coerce and solicit bribes in the real estate sector,” a senior Moroccan businessman was quoted in one of the cables as saying. Needless to say, the palace dismisses such claims as impertinent lies.
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