Saudi King surprises on Forbes Most Powerful People list

Forbes just released its annual "Most Powerful People on the Planet" list this morning. We have full coverage of the list here, but perhaps the biggest surprise is that the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, gets a very high spot. Read on for full analysis.

Saudi King gets number 3 on Forbes Most Powerful People list

Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, at age 86, controls a large portion of the world's oil reserves and has begun some very small liberalization initiatives (though Saudi Arabia remains one of the most conservative Islamic countries in terms of religious and political freedoms, but many people have to ask: why number 3? After all, this puts him one spot behind Barack Obama, and one spot ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The central thrust of Forbes' reasoning appears to be this: "Absolute ruler of desert kingdom that contains the world's largest crude oil reserves, two holiest sites in Islam. State-owned oil producer Saudi Aramco has reserves of 266 billion barrels, or one-fifth of planet's known supply (worth $22 trillion at today's oil prices)." Oil is a powerful resource in the world, to be true, but despite the periodic cries of 'peak oil', prices have stabilized somewhat over the last few years. Moreover, in the case of a broad political disagreement, Saudi Arabia does not have the armed forces necessary to mount a defense of their precious resources, should any world power seek to take over.

This puts his place ahead of someone like Vladimir Putin somewhat odd, as the Russian president commands a still significant military-industrial complex, and plays a major role in the burgeoning nuclear Iran that many see as one of the conflicts in the world to watch in the next decade. As even Forbes writes, the Russian Prime Minister "has final say over one-ninth of Earth's land area, vast energy and mineral resources. Declared nuclear power has veto on U.N.'s Security Council."

Other spots on the list are somewhat more logical, though another surprise is that the Pope, Benedict XVI, gains the number 5 spot. The Pope, while a great cultural force, has no political authority in a decade sure to include conflicts over resources, land, and nuclear armaments. Of course, the whole point behind lists like this is to generate commentary and debate--something the Saudi King's spot is sure to generate far beyond this article.

Huliq will continue to provide news and analysis of other surprises on Forbes' Most Powerful People list as the discussion continues.

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