A five-star retirement home for dictators

Ellen Knickmeyer writes:

Where once there were gilded gates and sweeping views, now there are parking lots, hospital ceilings, and object lessons for the Arab Spring’s new dictators-in-exile to contemplate.

For the routed presidents of Tunisia and Yemen, the latest additions to Saudi Arabia’s guest list of leaders no longer wanted by unappreciative homelands, exile after their people pulled the plugs on their presidencies-for-life is appearing gloomy and isolated. Their Saudi hosts are forbearing but not especially thrilled, either.

From King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the modern Saudi state, on down, the ruling al-Sauds have followed Arab tradition by offering asylum even to some toppled leaders they haven’t particularly liked, Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Kabeer, undersecretary of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told me in Riyadh this week.

In the case of Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the Saudis offered refuge to a leader who wasn’t even an ally; who had failed, like Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, to support the U.S.- and Saudi-backed Gulf War after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Prince Turki said.

“This man asked for our protection. This custom is part of our life,” Prince Turki, who is the Foreign Ministry’s official in charge of multilateral relations, said. “You can’t refuse if someone comes and asks for your assistance and protection.”

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