Insight on the Middle East from an unusual data point
The indispensable Walter Russell Mead notes that a recent story about a mansion for sale in London's Hyde Park explains a great deal about both anger on the streets in the Middle East and the absence of easy solutions for bringing modern economic and social development to the region. According to CNBC
The 45-bedroom, seven-storey building runs from 2-8A Rutland Gate and covers an area of 60,000 sq ft - slightly smaller than the playing surface of a Premier League football pitch.
The property, built as four separate family houses, was owned by Mr. Hariri until his assassination in 2005. After his death, the building was made over as a gift to Sultan bin Abdulaziz, crown prince of Saudi Arabia who died in October. Mr. Harari had close business ties with the prince's family.
The property has a large swimming pool, an industrial-sized kitchen, several lifts and underground parking. Its internal decor is rumored to contain millions of pounds worth of gold leaf. The windows in the house, 68 of which face towards the park, are thought to have been bullet-proofed by Mr. Harari during his ownership.
The prime minister of Lebanon lived in a house that Mitt Romney and John Kerry combined would have a hard time buying. That tells us something significant about how politics and money work together in Lebanon and indeed elsewhere in the Middle East.
After Hariri's assassination the house was very thoughtfully "made over" (whatever that means) to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. A gift for the man who has everything: a London mansion on a plot the size of a football field. Think of what a tremendous scandal it would be if an American politician died and left something like this to another national leader-or if a foreign leader died and left a gift like this to an American politician.
We are talking about deeply pre-modern, feudal politics. This is favor-swapping on a scale that eclipses anything we think of as corruption.