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French weekly magazine review 24 January 2016

media DR

This week's magazines reveal some astonishing facts: 62 individuals own more wealth than half the world's population; Saudi women are not on the point of a major social breakthrough; the high-speed machine age will turn us all into burnt-out wrecks, unless we learn to tune out and switch off.

There's a lot of Saudi Arabia on the French magazine racks this weekend.

Le Nouvel Observateur devotes its cover story to "Our friends the Saudis," complete with a picture of a soberly suited President François Hollande surrounded by blokes in long skirts and head scarves. These geezers turn out to be the Saudi royal family and its chief bottle-washers. Needless to say, there's not a woman to be seen.

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Economically and geopolitically very influential, despite the continuing decline of the price of oil, these are not the sort of people a French president wants to offend. But are they worth it?

Without going into the details of human and women's rights in a kingdom which that still publicly decapitates political and religious deviants, Le Nouvel Observateur says there's the question of Saudi support for fundamentalist Islam, the royal determination to defeat the neighbouring Shia - even at the risk of a regional war - and the fact that the commercial benefits of this embarrassing relationship are far from obvious.

An ally we might be better off without is the magazine's blunt final verdict.

Le Point's cover picture shows the Saudi king, Salman ben Abdelaziz,and declares that his is the kingdom which makes the world tremble, according to Le Point.

The problem for the French weekly is not that the Saudis are so powerful but that they are so fragile. The end of the golden age of oil is going to force a certain number of social and structural changes. Royal oppression is so effective that there's unlikely to be an Arab Spring-style revolution . . . everyone knows that the alternative to the current regime in chaos, it says . . . but it remains to be seen if the kingdom can be dragged a little closer to modernity without causing the camel shit to hit the fan.

How, for example, will economic change affect the place of women in Saudi society? Given that women don't have the right to drive, can't take any initiative without the permission of their menfolk and subsist in a legal system as second-class citizens.

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Le Point says the election of a tiny number of women in December's municipal polls - the first time Saudi women were allowed to vote - was a cosmetic change, since turnout was very low and the municipal councils have very limited power. But it's a step in the right direction.

More complex is the question of Sunni-Shia rivalry on a regional level and the precise position of the house of Saud on the war against Islamic extremism. Like the rest of us, they're against the Islamic State (IS) armed group. But Saudi Arabia has also been a major financier of fundamentalist movements for decades and is currently running proxy wars in both Yemen and Syria. For the Saudis, says Le Point, the real enemy is not IS, it is Iran. And that bodes ill for stability in a region already up to its hind hocks in massacre and mayhem.

The journalists at Marianne probably had some of the Saudis in mind when they decided to give the front-page honours to the super-rich.

According to statistics published this month by the British charity Oxfam, things are going very nicely for the 62 individuals who, between them, own as much as half the world's population.

The 62 are household names like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Liliane Bettencourt and Prince Alwaleed ben Talal al-Saoud.

Their wealth has increased by nearly 50 per cent over the past five years, while the rest of us have been struggling to make ends meet. Marianne wants to know how this money can be more fairly distributed.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The rich don't need to worry just yet. Between pie-in-the-sky proposals for universal taxation, a weak-kneed moral argument about the need to share, and a vague philosophy based on the undoubted fact that all wealth is a social product, the ideas being advanced to ensure a fairer distribution of global riches are not likely to come into effect tomorrow, Marianne says.

L'Express devotes its top story to time and how we use it. According to the magazine, a combination of professional pressure, exposure to screen frenzy, ever-accelerating technology and the tyranny of "now" has turned human existence into a losing struggle against the clock.

It's all a question of organising life in the short, medium and long term, being able to prioritise, understanding your internal rhythms and knowing when to switch off and drop out. The problem is that we have lost the ability to accept that we can't do everything in a society where the pace is set by multi-tasking machines.

Several magazines pay a final hommage to Michel Tournier, the French novelist who died last week at the age of 91. Le Point calls him "The last giant". Tournier considered Jules Verne to be the greatest French writer, and hatred and bitterness to be the greatest waste of time.

He composed his own epitaph, which reads: "I have loved you, you have returned that love 100 times. Thank you life."

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