King Abdullah has died – long live His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

January 24th, 2015 by Stephen Jones Leave a reply »

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died early on Friday and his brother Salman became king, the royal court in the world’s top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam said an official statement.
His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1am this morning,” said the statement carried by state television yesterday.

Abdullah, said by the Saudi embassy to have been born in 1924, had ruled Saudi Arabia as king since 2005, but had run the country as de facto regent for a decade before that after his predecessor King Fahdsuffered a debilitating stroke.

King Salman had named his half-brother Muqrin as his crown prince and heir, rapidly moving to forestall any fears of a succession crisis at a moment when Saudi Arabia faces unprecedented turmoil on its borders. (The rise of ISIL in war-torn Syria and Iraq brought to the kingdom’s frontiers a militant group that vows to bring down the Al Saud dynasty. Meanwhile, in Yemen, the Iran-allied Shi’ite Houthis have all but seized power and plunged the country to the brink of total chaos, opening space for al Qaeda, which waged an insurgency in Saudi Arabia from 2003-06 and nearly killed a top prince in 2009. The problems continue against an overarching backdrop of bitter rivalry between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its arch regional foe Shi’ite Iran and bumps in Riyadh’s key relationship with the United States. Meanwhile the oil price has more than halved since June, leaving the kingdom likely with its first planned budget deficit since 2009 and navigating difficulties with some other OPEC members that disagree with its strategy not to defend prices..

Many World leaders expressed condolences. President Obama saluted the late king’s commitment to close US-Saudi ties. “As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” Obama said in a statement. “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

President George H. W. Bush , described Abdullah as “a wise and reliable ally, helping our nations build on a strategic relationship” .

King Abdullah pushed cautious changes in the conservative Islamic kingdom including increased women’s rights and economic deregulation this drew criticism form both progressives and hardliners, nut he did much to move his country into a more modern world particularly with regard td degree education of women and oversees education to give exposure to other cultures, King Abdullah played a guiding role in Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt’s government after the military intervened in 2012, and drove his country’s support for Syria’s rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

King Salman, thought to be 79, has been part of the ruling group of princes for decades and is expected to broadly continue the main thrusts of Saudi strategic policy, including maintaining the alliance with the United States and working towards energy market stability. A physically imposing figure, Salman controls one of the Arab world’s largest media groups. He believes that democracy is ill-suited to the conservative kingdom and advocates caution on social and cultural reform, according to a 2007 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

As one of the so-called “Sudairi seven” – the brothers born to King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, by his favourite wife Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi, Salman has been at the centre of royal power for decades. (One son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, became the first Arab astronaut, flying on the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985. Prince Sultan is now the kingdom’s tourism minister while another son, Prince Abdulaziz, is the deputy oil minister.)

For nearly 50 years Salman was governor of Riyadh Province, a role that involved working closely with both conservative traditionalists and liberal technocrats as he oversaw the development of the Saudi capital from a small desert town to a major metropolis. In a royal family that bases its right to rule on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Salman is reputed to be devout and relatively outward-looking. As governor of Riyadh from 1962 until 2011, Salman had more to do with foreign governments than many senior royals

During his five decades as Riyadh governor he was reputedly adept at managing the delicate balance of clerical, tribal and princely interests that determine Saudi policy, while maintaining good relations with the West. A reputed moderate with a deft understanding of the competing demands of conservative clerics, powerful tribes and an increasingly youthful population, Salman will also have the final say on social and economic reforms started under Abdullah.His crown prince will be his youngest half brother Prince Muqrin, a former intelligence chief who was appointed as deputy crown prince in March.

Saudi Arabia, which holds more than a fifth of the world’s crude oil, also exerts some influence over the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims through its guardianship of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites. Incoming kings have traditionally chosen to appoint new ministers to head top ministries like oil and finance. In a country where the big ministries are dominated by royals, successive kings have kept the oil portfolio reserved for commoners and insisted on maintaining substantial spare output capacity to help reduce market volatility.

A fitting tribute reported form a Saudi businessman in Jeddah told Reuters: “People are very sad because they loved him very much. He was a father figure, sincere, and truly a king. He was always trying to be the arbitrator. He kept his word and was known for his loyalty.” Most of us would be happy with such a judgement. Meanwhile the important role of KSA in the economic prosperity and stability of the region cannot be underestimated and we wish His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud every success.


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