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article imageWealthy Arabs vacationing on yachts off the French Riviera

By Michael Cosgrove     Aug 27, 2009 in Travel
Most people take a vacation in the summer, and fabulously wealthy Sheikhs, Omars and businessmen from Gulf countries are no different. One of their favourite hang-outs is the French Riviera. But what do they get up to on those sumptuous yachts of theirs?
“Come on my friend the General, come and spend the day on my yacht!” That was the telephone invitation by a rich Lebanese businessman to his French friend who was also on holiday at his villa not far from Saint-Tropez.
The General had invited French journalist Georges Malbrunot* for the day, and this is Malbruno's story of what happened next as told on his news-blog.
And so both of them were whisked off aboard a splendid 50-meter-long bird of the seas with its 15 crew members and illustrious passengers. The yacht belonged to a Lebanese businessman who was taking a quick break off the French Riviera before leaving the same evening for Bologne in Italy for a night-time business meeting.
Kings, Emirs and Captains of industry from Gulf countries and the Far East adore the French Riviera. They converge on the area each year to escape the crushing heat of those areas of the world they come from. You could meet Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyad, in a chic Sardinian restaurant, the Emir al-Thani of Quatar on his yacht off Cannes, and various other Princes who spend their days lazing around on the decks of their deluxe boats.
During the time spent on his boat, the “Lebanese friend” received a call from one of Egyptian President Hosni Moubarak's advisors who said “I’m on my boat off Pampelonne, come on over and drink some tea." He accepted and hung up before saying “I can’t stand the sight of that guy, but you don’t refuse that kind of invitation.”
Another personality present, the very dynamic and influential Sheikha Moza, the wife of the Emir of Quatar, picked up her phone. “Fouad, I heard you were around. Come over and have some tea.” And so it was that everyone found themselves aboard her yacht.
What do people like that talk about? Nothing and everything. Things like the problems that Saad Hariri is encountering in his efforts to form a government of national unity in Lebanon. “Whatever he decides, he’s going to have to deal with the Hezbollah” says the Lebanese businessman, who is not exactly fond of Hariri.
They talk about France’s role in the Middle East too. “Don’t get too attached to symbolic actions” says someone to the General. Someone else says “I must absolutely get in touch with one of Sarkozy’s advisors.” Then the conversation turns to the subject of a certain royal couple, whose summer residence near Nice was recently burgled.
What with Nicolas Sarkozy being on holiday on Cap Nègre and Jaques Chirac in Saint-Tropez, Arab leaders are not far from their French friends. Some Emirs profit from their visits to invite their favourite French Ambassadors as a thank-you for their work in their countries.
Finally, there is the story from a couple of years ago when the French secret services found themselves in a big panic when, all of a sudden, all the Royal yachts weighed anchor and left together and headed back towards the Gulf. “We were worried that we hadn’t been told about the imminence of a military strike by Israel against Iran” says one of the agents present at that time.
False alarm. It was just that Ramadan was approaching, and Ramadan means the end of the fun and games in the Mediterranean.
(*Georges Malbrunot is a senior journalist at French daily Le Figaro, and is well-known as being one of two journalists who was kidnapped and held prisoner for four months by the Islamic Army in Iraq in 2004)
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