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Tuesday, 22 June, 1999, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Arab rulers top 'rich list'
Saddam Hussien's opulent palaces are a testimony to his wealth
Arab rulers appear prominently in this year's Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people.

With seven out of the top 10 richest heads of state, Arab leaders have remained remarkably wealthy in spite of disastrously low oil prices and political tensions in the region.

In fact, the wealth of most Arab leaders has risen sharply since the 1998 Forbes estimates.

Shaikh Zayed: A man of simple taste and fabulous wealth
In the case of President Saddam Hussein, the multi-billion dollar rating comes at a time of continuing, if not increasing, poverty among the Iraqi population.

The heads of state list, entitled 'The Non-working rich: Kings, Queens and Dictators," is published in parallel to the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people.

Saudi successes

The richest head of state remains the Sultan of Brunei with $30 billion, down from an estimated of $36 billion last year.

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd is catching up, with an estimated wealth of $28 billion, up from $25 billion last year.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer, and oil wealth is treated as indistinguishable from the wealth of the ruling Al-Saud family.

King Fahd (right) now very sick, greeting President of Iran in May
But as Crown Prince Abdullah said at last year's Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit, "the boom days of easy petrodollars are gone forever."

In Forbes' "Working rich list", Saudi Arabia also boasts five billionaires from the banking and investment sectors.

A member of the ruling Al-Saud family, Prince al-Walid ibn Talal, is easily the richest of these, with an estimated $15 billion, based on extensive investments in US and European blue-chip stocks and hotel investments.

Best of the rest

The world's third richest head of state is Sheikh Zayed of the United Arab Emirates with $20 billion.

The Emir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, comes in fourth with $17 billion.

Queen Elizabeth of the UK is in fifth spot, but most of her wealth (the Royal Collection, including the crown jewels) is held in trust for the nation and her personal holdings are estimated at a mere $450 million.

Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai lies in sixth place, with $12 billion from oil, investments and services.

Black sheep of the family

In seventh place comes the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, a pariah for the West, as well as for some countries in the Middle East.

The Emir of Kuwait returning from exile in 1991
Forbes says Saddam Hussein's $6 billion comes from oil, while his son Uday allegedly controls smuggling across Iraq's borders.

Forbes Magazine says that, while the ruling elite in Iraq is getting richer, malnutrition and disease have ravaged the Iraqi population under UN sanctions.

Bringing up the rear

Queen Beatrix of Netherlands makes an unexpected appearance at No 8 with $5.2 billion - reportedly as a result of a number of clever investments.

But it is back to the Middle East for Nos 9 and 10. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar has $5 billion in oil and investments, while President Hafez Al-Assad of Syria has $2 billion in oil and agriculture.

An honourable mention goes to Rafik al-Hariri, not a head of state but a former Prime Minister of Lebanon.

His Saudi-based contracting company Saudi Oger brought his personal wealth up to $4 billion in 1998-99.

What the populations of the seven Arab countries think of the wealth of their unelected leaders is not recorded.

See also:

A people suffering under sanctions
09 Dec 98 | The Economy
The 'easy petrodollar' days are over
09 Mar 99 | Middle East
Analysis: Gulf democracy gets boost
10 Jun 99 | Middle East
Abandoned in the Gulf
21 Jun 99 | Middle East
Qatar media criticise royal family
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