Liberty, Equality and Fraternity on the Beaches of the Cote d’Azur

I was amused by this article about Saudi King Salman’s visit to the Cote d’Azur, and surprised to read that even in the land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, expediency and commercial opportunity trump the rights of the ordinary beachgoer.

Beach Closed for Saudi Visit

King Salman is travelling with an entourage of about 1,000 and a stretch of beach will be closed to enable him to enjoy himself in ‘privacy’. He and his companions will arrive on two Boeing 747s, some to stay in the King’s villa and the rest to be put up in hotel rooms in Cannes. A thousand people for three weeks at the peak of the holiday season must cost the royal family well over three million pounds. Trickle-down theorists will point out, in his defence, that some of the money will trickle down to those locals who are denied a swim at their favourite beach.

King Salman

The balancing of individual rights against a wider commercial advantage isn’t something amenable to an automatic moral algorithm, sadly, but with the French leading the charge against economic inequality this pandering to the wishes of one rich foreign family is rather unexpected.

But what strikes me as most odd about this story is not the closure of the beach, but the idea that you might travel to a foreign country with so many of your own countrymen that the very foreignness of the place you’re visiting is entirely obliterated. If I travel to France I want to be with the French, to eat French food, to be insulted for my language skills, and perturbed by French hauteur, not to be surrounded by my own countrymen.

I’m reminded of a time in Sofia more than fifteen years ago, when one of my visits coincided with a state visit by Bill Clinton, then President of the United States. He, too, arrived with an entourage on two Boeing 747s, and took over most of the city’s hotel rooms. I shared a dining room at one hotel with the Presidential hairdresser. Most of the city was closed for the 36 hours of his stay, not just a single beach. But in practice we can’t demand equality of world leaders, whose security must trump the rights of the rest of us, for a time at least. The wheels of diplomacy and international relations must turn, however expensive that may be. The holiday visit of a Saudi King is another matter.

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