Philips which Forbes angers a Saudi Prince

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud is annoyed.

Forbes has long been the ultimate list. Featuring on the magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest is an aspiration of many an entrepreneur, while, for the rest of us, it’s ranking of billionaires shows us just who actually is in charge.

But today the magazine has just infuriated Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, the man who it believes the wealthiest in the Middle East. In a brutal statement of misgiving, the CFO of Alwaleed’s company, Kingdom Holding, said, “Forbes has no intention of improving the accuracy of their valuation of our holdings”. While in another statement he said, “I never knew that Forbes was a magazine of sensational dirt-digging and rumor-filled stories.” 

So how has Forbes provoked such a stir? How is one of the most powerful men in the Middle East moved by some shallow rich list? Here’s why: The article headlining Forbes’ March 2013 magazine not only paints the picture of a man obsessed by money, but gives an interesting insight into the region.

Alwaleed, Forbes argues, annually exaggerates his wealth by billions just so he can appear on their rich list; such is his obsession with the competition. He uses his public company – Kingdom Holding, which uses the tagline, “The World’s Foremost Value Investor” – to inflate his value. Only this year, Forbes gave him a net worth far less than Alwaleed would have liked. Here’s what they say:

“Of the 1,426 billionaires on our list, not one–not even the vainglorious Donald Trump–goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking.”

This distaining Forbes article may show up Alwaleed as a man whose pride is his wealth. But it also raises questions over his fellow Saudi’s obsession with money.

The article goes on to list Alwaleed’s 420 room palace (apparently filled with portraits of himself), 747 private aircraft with a throne, private “farm and resort” with artificial lakes and a zoo. Yet all of these (bar perhaps the zoo) are not uncommon displays of wealth in the Kingdom, which, also according to Forbes, has the second most billionaires in the Middle East after Israel.

Ironically, this accumulation and ostentation goes against the wishes of Saudi Arabia’s founder, and Alwaleed’s grandfather, Ibn Saud. According to his English adviser, St John Philby, Ibn Saud was frequently frustrated by many of the Princes’ displays of wealth.

As for Alawaleed’s true wealth: Forbes puts his worth (apparently wrongly) at $20 million; Bloomberg, who he endorses, says he is worth $28; Arabian Business takes the middle ground at $25.9 and WealthInsight, a global wealth consultancy says that Alwaleed owns $22.6.

Look at all my money. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.