09 Feb

For Portland, a royal road to Riyadh

We have a king.

Well, almost and sort of.

In the new royal arrangement in Saudi Arabia, second in the line of succession – deputy crown prince, or Joe Biden once removed – is Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, the interior minister. Of thousands of years of leaders on the Arabian peninsula, going back to the queen of Sheba, he will be the first to have attended Lewis & Clark.

Naturally, we’re very excited.

It’s been a while since Southwest Portland has produced an absolute monarch.

Even Phil Knight grew up on the east side.

Now, we have a royal line that runs right up Terwilliger.

There might be a question about the strength of our ties to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After all, the most evident American royal connection is to the British monarchy, which provides a steady stream of People magazine covers. Prince George, at two years old, has already been on more magazine covers than the entire U.S. Senate. The British monarchy, after all, used to rule this country – with a particular claim on Oregon – and they come over for frequent state visits, when we get very sentimental and they seem very relieved.

But last month, our real royal allegiance became clear.

The funeral for Saudi King Abdullah – whose death opened up the royal palace to Lewis & Clark – brought to Saudi Arabia President and Michelle Obama (who cut short a visit to India, although they really wanted to see the Taj Mahal), the secretary of state, the national security advisor, the CIA director, Sen. John McCain, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and enough American dignitaries to open the World Series, or maybe the Iowa State Fair. It was way beyond the U.S. delegation for any British royal occasion – including the London Olympics and Prince William’s bachelor party – making it clear where America’s strongest royal ties now run.

And that Lewis & Clark has hit the jackpot. Admittedly, the depth of Prince Mohammed’s experience at the college isn’t entirely clear. Greg Caldwell, who was associate dean of students at the time, told The Oregonian he remembered the prince as getting along well with other students and giving them rides in his car.

Which is nice, but it’s how people remember Jerry from the fraternity house, not the future master of one-fifth of the planet’s known petroleum reserves.

And nobody’s said whether the prince contributes to the alumni fund, although he’s clearly in a position to help Lewis & Clark win both a Nobel Prize and the Rose Bowl. Saudi Arabia, after all, currently has foreign currency reserves of $750 billion, or 25 Harvards.

There may be a small complication. The New York Times and The Washington Post both reported that the prince graduated from Lewis & Clark, but over last weekend the college checked its records and revealed that he didn’t. Misinformation about academic records have gotten people bounced as U.S. senator and Notre Dame football coach, but it’s not clear if it would interfere with the Saudi royal succession.

But the real question is, how does the future king remember Portland? Does he have a 3,000-foot TV antenna so he can watch “Portlandia”? Has he laid out bike paths through the desert of the Empty Quarter? Does he complain that there are no good places in Saudi Arabia for brunch?

He was here in the late ’70s. Does he bore the other 7,000 Saudi royals by constantly talking about how if Bill Walton hadn’t hurt his foot, the Trail Blazers would have been a dynasty?

Information control in Saudi Arabia is too tight for us to know whether the future king plans to cover the Middle East with food carts, or is considering whether the ideal fabric for the Arabian autumn might be Gore-tex. But we have reason to think that somebody in the country – or as it’s more often called, The Kingdom – has been speaking well of Portland; Scott Graham, interim dean of the Portland State business school, recently told the Portland Tribune that PSU has more Saudi students than any other American university.

Seattle may have trips to the Super Bowl, but Portland has what you might call a pipeline to Saudi Arabia.

The future of the relationship has broad possibilities. But at least one point is clear:
When Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, Lewis & Clark ex-’81, becomes king of Saudi Arabia, there will be an obvious choice for grand marshal of the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

Until then, we can at least start working on a Sister City in Riyadh.

NOTE: Thos column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 12/8/15.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>