Robert Lacey
Author, "The Kingdom"

Do Saudis Care About Being in the G20?

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According to Robert Lacey, the everyday Saudi doesn't care much at all about the Western world, let alone their home country's inclusion in the G20.

Robert Lacey

Robert Lacey is a British historian noted for his original research, which gets him close to - and often living alongside - his subjects. He is the author of numerous international bestsellers as well as the new release "Inside the Kingdom".

After writing his first works of historical biography, Robert, Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh, Robert wrote Majesty, his pioneering biography of Queen Elizabeth II. Published in 1977, Majesty remains acknowledged as the definitive study of British monarchy - a subject on which the author continues to write and lecture around the world, appearing regularly on ABC's Good Morning America and on CNN's Larry King Live.

The Kingdom, a study of Saudi Arabia published in 1981, is similarly acknowledged as required reading for businessmen, diplomats and students all over the world. To research The Kingdom, Robert and his wife Sandi took their family to live for eighteen months beside the Red Sea in Jeddah. Going out into the desert, this was when Robert earned his title as the "method actor" of contemporary biographers.

In March 1984 Robert Lacey took his family to live in Detroit, Michigan, to write Ford: the Men and the Machine, a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic which formed the basis for the TV mini-series of the same title, starring Cliff Robertson.

Robert's other books include biographies of the gangster Meyer Lansky, Princess Grace of Monaco and a study of Sotheby's auction house. He co- authored The Year 1000 - An Englishman's World, a description of life at the turn of the last millennium. In 2002, the Golden Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II, he published Royal (Monarch in America), hailed by Andrew Roberts in London's Sunday Telegraph as "compulsively readable", and by Martin Amis in The New Yorker as "definitive".


Question: How important was Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the G20 to the typical Saudi?

Robert Lacey: It would not have registered with most Saudis that Saudi Arabia in a very significant move was included in the G-20, top 20 economic powers, but it’s really striking when you see the photograph of G-20 meetings. There is just one Arab there, one king dressed in his traditional robes and Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, but it’s become crucial, not to the world economy, not just because of its oil, but because actually of all the oil producers it’s the one that is most careful with its money. That’s partly because oil is so inexpensive to produce. They make more profit on it than anyone else, but Saudi Arabia is now one of the chief supports of the dollar. All their surfaces just go unquestioningly into propping up the dollar and were they ever to withdraw their support from the dollar the dollar would collapse.

Question: Will Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the G20 have a long-term impact?

Robert Lacey: Saudi Arabia has a very ambivalent attitude towards the modern world. Yes, it’s proud to belong to the G-20, but at the same time with the Copenhagen talks coming up, it’s sort of putting itself up, I think this is a terrible mistake, as a sort of trade labor union spokesman for the oil producers saying well, if you developed countries are going to cut down how much oil you use then you better pay us some compensation. I think that is very mistaken. I mean already the world has enough difficulty liking Saudi Arabia. I mean how would you like a country that gets oil out of the ground for a few dollars a barrel then charges us $70 for it? You know I mean you know they will explain that they got a country to run. They got nothing else they produce, but. And then this country gives you terrorists as well, so it’s got image problems and I would have thought it’s very ill-advised of it to complain, especially since in reality it’s doing quite a lot to study alternative forms of energy because they know it’s in their own interests. They are now one of the leading researchers in the world into solar energy because they’ve got a lot of sun out there and they’re looking into this strange technology of taking a sort of biomass slime. You put it in the sun. It sucks CO2, carbon dioxide out of the air and creates more biomass. Sounds sort of a bit Dr. Strangelove and creepy, but they’re doing all this sort of thing and I would have thought they were much better telling the world about that than trying to get compensation for the fact that. I mean I think it’s going to be a long time before we ever give up petrol oil in our cars. It’s a very, very, for all its polluting qualities; there is just nothing so -- there is not such an intense power source that is so portable and easy to use.

Recorded on: October 20, 2009