It is easy to deride Saudi rulers, the only clan that has named a whole country after itself and that insists on continuing to wield absolute power with all the cruelty, nepotism and hypocrisy that goes with it. Indeed, I have done my share of criticising them myself over the years. Yet if one considers the realistic alternatives that might have taken their place, one is forced to moderate one’s view. The much more sophisticated Iranians to the north imposed a parliament on their monarchs over a century ago, but the dream turned out to be over-ambitious and democracy – even one vetted daily by mullahs for compliance with sharia law – did not last long. In the 1920s, an army officer by the name of Reza Khan rose to re-establish absolutism and flogged every mullah who stood in the path of his European-style reforms. The upshot of this – after many agonised twists and turns – is now a fanatically Islamic republic whose president prays every day for the end of the world and wonders why his pursuit of doomsday weapons makes other people nervous.
The Saudis’ other neighbours who deposed their own monarchies have included ‘the Father of the Turks’, who thought banning Turkish music would make his countrymen lovers of Beethoven overnight, demagogic Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, and the mad colonel who still rules Libya. Iraq’s late genocidal monster, who was among