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Rich Men:The Sultan of Brunei

Updated on May 4, 2012

Brunei is a small sovereign state, lying along the north coast of the island of Borneo, the remainder of the territory belonging to Indonesia and Malaysia. Geographically, it occupies a strategic position, located as it is, on the South China Sea, close to vital sea lanes linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The story of Brunei dates back to the seventh century when it called P'o-li, a subject state of the ancient and influential Malay Sriviyayan empire. Later, it became a vassal (subordinate) state to the Majapahit, one of the last great powerful empires of the region and in the fifteenth century, converted to Islam. From that time to today, the same Muslim dynasty has ruled over the tiny country..

During the subsequent centuries Brunei fell into decline for a number of reasons - colonial expansion, internal squabbling over royal succession and an increase in piracy and In 1888, it became a British protectorate. In the 1960s Brunei was invited to became of Malaysia but declined the offer, chiefly because both parties could not agree on the amount of oil income Brunei would be compelled to give to the central government. Ultimately, Brunei was granted independence form the UK in 1984.

The Sultan of Brunei. Image from the Brunei Student society
The Sultan of Brunei. Image from the Brunei Student society

Rich in Resources

The Sultanate of Brunei is a very rich country, due to its plentiful natural gas and petroleum resources and has a small population of around four hundred thousand people and a per capita GDP above that of many Western countries.

The majority of the population is Malay, followed by Chinese, indigenous citizens and a small proportion of foreign workers who work in the resources (gas and oil), teaching or hospitality fields.

Brunei is also home to the largest mosque in the Far East; an impressive structure that reaches a height of 52 meters and is crowned by a gold dome and supported by walls of exquisite Italian marble, which also forms the mosque’s columns, arches, and towers.

The Capital of Bandar Seri Begawanis (formerly Brunei Town) is neat, sparkling clean and highly efficiently run. As a major port of the South China Sea, Bandar Seri Begawan is both a showpiece and a significant gateway to the country.

The very beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
The very beautiful Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

The Sultan

Hassanal Bolkiah has been the 29th Sultan of Brunei since 1967 and is absolute monarch, head of state and head of government as well as holding finance and defence portfolios. In 2006, the Sultan reputedly changed Brunei's constitution to make himself infallible under Bruneian law. This means that constitutionally, the sultan "can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity," The monarch's full title is; His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam; he has 11 children and was married to both Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha and Her Royal Highness Pengiran Isteri Azrinaz Mazhar Hakim but divorced the latter in 2010.

The Sultan runs a tight ship, in accordance with Islamic law and in Brunei the sale of alcohol is strictly forbidden, as is the importation of meat that is not halal, that is, has not been slaughtered in the correct Islamic manner. The Brunei media also, is run with a tight grip and you wont find much controversy nor criticism of the Sultan and his family in the newspapers, though there is plenty of praise.


His Majesty is famous for being one of the richest men in the world and for a time was the richest man and with an estimated fortune of 20 billion dollars doesn't lag too far behind in the wealth stakes. In spite of a legal insulation against the possibility of wrongdoing, the breadth and expenditure of the Royal family's immense wealth has not been without controversy.

All the money of course, is derived from the country's extensive oil and gas resources and the Sultan lives an excessively lavish lifestyle. During his term as finance minister, his brother Prince Jefri was accused of siphoning off billions of dollars for his own use - a charge he rejects.

Yet, if Brunei is a despotism, in historical terms, it is a relatively benevolent one as there is a comprehensive welfare system, which includies generous health, education and housing provisions. There is, it seems, plenty of wealth to go around, It's just that some have more generous slices of the pie than others.


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