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Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 10:33 GMT

World: Middle East

Saudi prince in hotel row

Cairo is a popular destination for visitors from the Gulf

By Middle East correspondent Jim Muir

A luxury hotel in Cairo has become the scene of a tense situation involving a prominent Saudi prince and a number of Egyptian servants in his employ.

The situation came to light earlier this week when an Egyptian cook broke his back when he fell from a rope of knotted sheets after escaping through a window on the 29th floor.

It is one of five entire floors at the five-star hotel which have been occupied for the past seven years by a Saudi prince and his retinue.

Hotel staff say that three other servants also managed to escape by the same method.

Egyptian newspapers quote the escaped workers as saying they were confined to the hotel for many months, had not been paid and had been beaten up by the prince's many bodyguards, who are mainly privately-hired Americans.

About eight other Egyptian domestic workers are believed to be virtually held prisoner in the hotel.

Some press reports say they have threatened to commit suicide if they are not freed.

Their families have petitioned the authorities and held demonstrations outside a Cairo police station, insisting that the servants be allowed to leave the hotel.

Egyptian officials say the state prosecutor is investigating the case.

Staff at the hotel confirmed the press reports, and said they had put the matter in the hands of the authorities, hoping for a swift resolution.

For Egypt, this is a highly sensitive case involving possible damage to relations with Saudi Arabia.

The prince, Turki bin Abd al-Aziz, is a full brother of the Saudi monarch, King Fahd.

It is not the first time his entourage have been involved in trouble in Cairo.

Three years ago, two of his foreign bodyguards were ordered to leave the country after an incident in which two Egyptians were beaten up in front of the same hotel.

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