by Rosie Alfatlawi
In November, Saudi Arabia was rocked by the sudden arrest of dozens of prominent figures, including princes and ministers. Accusations of corruption were directed at the high-profile detainees, amid rumors of a power play by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But, for many Saudis, a perhaps even more disturbing disclosure came over the weekend, as well-known billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal spoke to Reuters prior to his release.
“You know I’m vegan, correct?” he said, while showing an interviewer his suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where most of those detained were held.
“These are my salads…” the businessman told the camera from his ‘pantry.’ “This is my diet Pepsi. That’s my ketchup, always. That’s my mustard.”
After the release of the footage, Saudis took to Twitter in shock.
الوليد بن طلال طلع نباتي pic.twitter.com/luonAtnR7b— Ali (@AliAlz3bi) January 27, 2018
"Alwaleed bin Talal is vegan!!!!!!!!” Tweeted @Mtm156. “What does he do with the money, then?”
The owner of international investment company Kingdom Holding, Bin Talal was worth over $18 billion at the time of his arrest in November last year.
@faisal_0x added: “Alwaleed bin Talal turns out to be vegan! What a waste of his billions.”
He should “give [his money] to the government so it can give it to the people to buy meat,” suggested @alz_nasser.
Veganism is a very rare phenomenon in the Middle East, where meat culture is big and seen as an indicator of social class. This widely shared satirical map, produced by @KarlreMarks last week, gives some indication of the lifestyle’s regional rarity.
Six ways to divide the Middle East and North Africa. The Institute of Internet Diagrams decided to do one of those for the region. pic.twitter.com/LUs7e4arx3— Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) January 26, 2018
Others pointed out Diet Pepsi is not strictly vegan.
How much did Pepsi pay him for this advertisement? He is vegan but Pepsi is fine.
“He says he is vegan, but forgot vegans don’t drink Pepsi,” wrote @bandarfahadfg.
Bin Talal told Reuters hours before his release Saturday that his detention was a “misunderstanding,” insisting that “there are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government.”
It was anticipated that Bin Talal would reach a financial settlement with the government to guarantee his freedom, as other detainees have reportedly done. He suggested that was “not necessarily” the case, however.
In fact, his interview was so vague, Twitter complained that “the only thing we learned from this is that he is vegan.”
Some have suggested that the interview was simply a Saudi government effort to counter a recently aired BBC documentary alleging he had been tortured. Bin Talal himself directly addressed the “rumors,” saying “it’s all lies, frankly speaking.”
When asked by Reuters what he would do once he was let out, Bin Talal had told them “I’ll go outside, I’ll go to my office, I’ll go the desert on the weekend. I’ll continue being a vegetarian – a vegan, actually.”
Since his release, however, multiple reports have alleged that Bin Talal is not completely free.
The Daily Mail on Monday cited a source in Saudi Arabia as saying that he is under house arrest. Others claimed a Saudi government official would accompany him on future trips abroad.
A source told Forbes that @Alwaleed_Talal is giving up nearly all his assets, will likely be given an allowance & that when he travels abroad he will be accompanied by someone chosen by the #Saudi government (a minder) https://t.co/bvBdWsphoy— SaadAbedine (@SaadAbedine) January 30, 2018
Veganism is so important for Bin Talal and his family, his son Khaled has now announced plans to open a chain of vegan restaurants in the Arab world.
Earlier this month, Khaled said in a Facebook post that by 2020 he would open at least 10 plant-based cafes in the region as an effort to combat obesity.
Still, if the Twitter response to his father’s veganism is anything to go on, meat-free food is not going to be a big money-maker in Saudi Arabia any time soon.
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