Fahd visit unsettles Geneva's orderly way of life

King Fahd and his entourage are pictured here arriving at Geneva airport in May Keystone Archive

A summer visit to Geneva by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has provided a boost to the city's tourism industry but also headaches for local authorities.

This content was published on July 27, 2002 - 12:34

King Fahd, who flew into the city in May, has his own palatial mansion - the Dawn Villa in the exclusive suburb of Collonge-Bellerive - in which he and many of his servants are staying.

But politicians and members of the public have expressed concern at the way in which Fahd and his entourage have disrupted the way of life in the Swiss city.

Fnac, one of the city's largest multimedia stores, agreed at the end of May to open its doors in the middle of the night to allow members of the king's entourage to shop away from the public eye - a move which authorities say is in direct contravention of local legislation governing shop opening hours.

Public concerns about Fahd's stay in the city rose further this week, when the 81-year-old, wheelchair-bound king began making plans to check into Geneva's cantonal hospital for a cataract operation - accompanied by a large entourage including his personal surgeon.

According to the German-speaking daily newspaper, "Blick", the operation took place on Friday night and was a success, but the hospital declined to make any comment.

Breaking the law

Olivier Jornot, president of Geneva's Liberal Party, believes guests like King Fahd should be welcomed to the city, but he adds that private businesses should not accept all the demands made on them by visiting royals.

"The shop concerned took liberties regarding existing law and this is something which disturbs me," Jornot told swissinfo, "because I think that even though we have to make special efforts to welcome personalities like King Fahd, this has to be done without breaking the law."

Carlo Lamprecht - a cantonal minister responsible for economic affairs in Geneva - says he is having to tread delicately in a tug of war between the private sector, which welcomes the king and his spending power, and members of the public, who believe he is overstepping the mark.

"This whole business puts me in a delicate position," he told the French-speaking paper, "L'Hebdo".

"If Fahd comes to Geneva and goes shopping, I can only be happy. But if I hear about a violation of the law, then I am obliged to open an investigation."

Hospital stay

Fahd's hospitalisation has also raised concerns about possible disruption to other patients.

Albert Nahory, representative of the Public Services Union at Geneva's University Hospital, says Fahd is welcome to check himself in for an operation - as long as he does not disturb the day-to-day running of the hospital.

"I am surprised and concerned because the cantonal hospital is a public institution and it would be a little strange to see a patient enter a public hospital with not only his own furniture but ... also his own medical team," Nahory said in an interview with swissinfo.

"He should be made to follow the same hospital rules that everyone else has to follow," he added.

Positive impact

But Jornot puts a different spin on Fahd's stint in hospital, suggesting that it is proof of Geneva's international reputation as a centre for medical excellence.

"The fact that King Fahd or any other big name from outside Switzerland chooses Geneva for medical care is something which we should welcome and be proud of," says Jornot.

"It proves that the quality of our medical care is well known and it also shows that Geneva continues to retain its power of attraction - and so I welcome the fact that King Fahd chose to treat himself in our hospital."

Jornot points out that though the hospital is a public institution, arrangements were made for the Saudi king to check into one wing reserved for private patients.

"In that wing there are rooms available to people who pay for them, so it is not a question of King Fahd commandeering rooms," he comments.

Delicate balance

Jornot believes the economic advantages of a high-profile royal visit for local businesses and the tourism industry far outweigh the demands made by the king.

But the Geneva-based politician also suggests the king's closest advisers should be more sensitive to public mood.

"Perhaps King Fahd's entourage could have acted with a little more tact and discretion to alleviate the concerns of members of the public who fear a veritable army arriving at the hospital," he says.

"That is a question of sensitivity which could perhaps have been better handled."


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