Although inevitable, nothing scares people more than death. Almost everyone wants to live forever even though they know that is impossible. The fear of death is particularly strong among people that are used to a life of luxury and opulence. They simply cannot give up on the pleasures of the dunya, fearing that there will be reckoning on the other side.
Take the case of the Bani Saud. At least 150 members of the clan—and perhaps many more—have been infected by the coronavirus, according to reports from the medieval kingdom. Some people would say, about time! The highest-ranking member is Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abd al-Aziz, the Governor of Riyadh. He is in the intensive care unit of King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, according to The New York Times, which cited hospital communications, doctors in the country and sources familiar with the family. He is in his seventies.
Early last month as news of the royals’ infection broke out, doctors at an elite hospital that treats royals were instructed to prepare 500 more beds for an expected influx of patients. “Directives are to be ready for VIPs from around the country,” the operators of the elite facility, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, wrote in a “high alert” sent out electronically on April 7 to senior doctors. A copy was later obtained by the NYT.
“We don’t know how many cases we will get but high alert,” said the message, which instructed “all chronic patients to be moved out ASAP” and only “top urgent cases” will be accepted, according to the Times. The racism in this directive is clearly evident. The Bani Saud clan must get priority over other citizens. These uncouth Bedouins demand special treatment as if they own the kingdom. It takes gall.
Other clan members have taken drastic steps to try and prevent getting infected. There is no guarantee they are not already infected. The virus has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days before its effects are known. The globe-trotting Saudi royals are believed to have caught the pathogen while traveling to Europe. This is how AIDS was brought into the kingdom 20 years ago. Members of the royal family who regularly frequent brothels in Europe, became HIV-infected and returned home with AIDS.
The aged and ailing King Salman, who is believed to be 86, and crown prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) have both gone into hiding. The king has been moved to a remote island in the Red Sea for ‘protection’! Suffering from dementia and multiple other ailments, it is doubtful whether he has much time left on earth. Bearing in mind that the majority of people that have died of COVID-19 in Italy, Spain and France were in their eighties, King Salman is in the appropriate age group for transfer to the other side. Did he move to the remote island for the awaited rendezvous with the Angel of Death?
There is a story related to the time of Prophet Sulaiman (as) that may just apply to King Salman. A courtier in the Prophet’s court was terrified that another man was staring at him intently. He requested the Prophet-King who had power over Jinns, to move him to a remote island where nobody lived. Prophet Sulaiman fulfilled his wish and then turned to the man that was staring at him to inquire the reason for doing so.
“I am the Angel of Death,” said the ‘man’. “Allah ordered me to take that man’s ruh at the remote island yet I found him sitting here. I was wondering how I would fulfill Allah’s command but he himself asked to be sent there.” Has Salman just moved to a similar remote island? Whether the coronavirus kills him, or he dies of old age or the myriad other ailments he is afflicted with, we are likely to find out fairly soon, insha’Allah.
As for MbS, he has also gone into purdah in a palace in Jeddah. This must be very hard for him since, like his master in the White House, MbS is a publicity hog. He likes to be in front of every camera and microphone and wants to be seen shaking hands with people. COVID-19 has demolished all these publicity gimmicks.
Would MbS be able to escape encounter with COVID-19? Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah has warned that the country’s coronavirus battle is only just beginning, predicting “a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000” infections. The country has been put under total lockdown with most cities under 24-hour curfew. All flights in and out of the country are banned. The two sacred mosques—Masjid al Haram and Masjid al Nabawi—are also closed as are all other mosques in the kingdom. People are barred from venturing out except for absolutely essential services such as food and medicines.
Ramadan is a favourite month for Muslims to perform Umrah—the lesser pilgrimage. Makkah is packed with pilgrims, especially in the last ten days of Ramadan. Not this year; it has the deserted look of a ghost town. All hotels are shut down, as are restaurants and other places where pilgrims would usually flock. The regime will not only lose billions of dollars in pilgrimage revenues but also in lost business. From Hajj alone the regime earns about $33 billion annually. It appears increasingly unlikely that Muslims would be able to perform Hajj this year.
Given the sharp decline in oil prices, largely the result of regime’s own faulty policies, as well as shutdown of global trade because of the pandemic, the regime is heading for a financial crash. This will add to regime woes since it would no longer have the money to buy people’s loyalty or silence. It is certain that the regime would be forced to resort to more brutal tactics to browbeat people into submission.
Oppression may not work under the present circumstances. If people cannot get food and begin to see their loved ones dying before their eyes, they will lose the fear of death. MbS’ erratic policies have already antagonized a lot of people. The crisis created by the pandemic may just prove the straw that broke the Bani Saud camel’s back.