Monday, February 2, 2015

A00055 - Abdullah, Shrewd King Who Reshaped Saudi Arabia

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Abdullah, also spelled ʿAbd Allāh, in full Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud or Abdullah ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz    (b. c. 1923— d. January 23, 2015, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), was king of Saudi Arabia from 2005 to 2015. As crown prince (1982–2005), he served as the country’s de facto ruler following the 1995 stroke of his half brother King Fahd (r. 1982–2005).  Abdullah was one of King ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn Sa'ud's 37 sons. For his support of Crown Prince Faysal (1964–75) during Fayṣal’s power struggle with King Sa'ud (1953–64), Abdullah was rewarded in 1962 with command of the Saudi National Guard. In 1975 King Khalid (1975–82), Fayṣal’s successor, appointed him deputy prime minister and, in 1982, King Fahd appointed him crown prince and first deputy prime minister. In 1995, Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke, and Abdullah briefly served as regent the following year. Although Fahd subsequently returned to power, Abdullah ran the daily affairs of the country and became king after Fahd died in 2005.

Abdullah was committed to preserving Arab interests, but he also sought to maintain strong ties with the West, especially with the United States. In 2001, relations between the two countries grew strained over Saudi claims that the United States government was not evenhanded in its approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The situation worsened later in the year, following the September 11 attacks against the United States and the subsequent revelation that most of the attackers were Saudi nationals. Abdullah condemned the attacks and, in a move to improve relations, proposed a peace initiative that was adopted at the 2002 Arab summit meeting. The plan called upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories (the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights) and promised in return a full Arab normalization of relations with the Jewish country. Tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia resurfaced, however, after Abdullah refused to support a United States-led attack on Iraq or to allow the use of Saudi military facilities for such an act.

On the domestic front, Abdullah introduced a program of moderate reform to address a number of challenges facing Saudi Arabia. The country’s continued reliance on oil revenue was of particular concern, and among the economic reforms he introduced were limited deregulation, foreign investment, and privatization. He originally sought to placate extreme Islamist voices—many of which sought to end the Saʿūdī dynasty’s rule—yet the spectre of anti-Saudi and anti-Western violence within the country’s borders led him, for the first time, to order the use of force by the security services against some extremists. At the same time, in 2005, Abdullah responded to demands for greater political inclusiveness by holding the country’s first municipal elections, based on adult male suffrage. Uncertainty surrounding succession in the kingdom was a further source of domestic concern, and late the following year Abdullah issued a new law refining the country’s succession policies. Among the changes was the establishment of an Allegiance Commission, a council of Saudi princes meant to participate in the selection of a crown prince—previously the task of the king alone—and to oversee a smooth transition of power.

In February 2009, Abdullah enacted a series of broad governmental changes, which affected areas such as the judiciary, armed forces, and various ministries. Notable among his decisions were the replacement of senior individuals within the judiciary and the religious police with more moderate candidates and the appointment of the country’s first female deputy minister, who was charged with overseeing girls’ education. Upon Abdullah's death in 2015, his half-brother Salman was appointed king.

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