Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Siasa Duni Factbox: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah

In light of the recent upheavals in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the sixth king to rule one of the world's most conservative nations, will have to speed up reforms to stave off any dissent, analysts and diplomats say.

Here are some facts on Abdullah:

• Abdullah, as crown prince, launched an overhaul of state education and the judiciary, which were both dominated by puritanical Wahhabi clerics and their supporters.

• His measures were aimed at attracting more foreign investors and give Saudis skills applicable beyond the bloated public sector to prepare for the day when the kingdom's vast mineral resources run out.

• The social and economic reforms he started were to draw young Saudis away from radicalism, but Abdullah made no progress on political reform.

• There is still no elected parliament and protests and political parties are banned.

• In Feb. 2009, Abdullah removed two radical clerics from senior positions, but then a few months later postponed for two years municipal elections in which women had hoped to participate for the first time.

• Abdullah will be remembered for his landmark Arab peace initiative offering Israel normalised ties with Arab states in exchange for the return of Arab land occupied in 1967 — a shift that pleased Washington but failed to get Israeli endorsement.

• Despite a reputation for being more Arab nationalist than his pro-American brother, Abdullah worked to restore ties with Washington clouded by the Sept. 11 attacks and charges that Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam fostered anti-Western violence.


• Abdullah was one of King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud's 37 sons and was born around 1923.

•  For his support of Prince Faisal during Faisal's power struggle with King Saud, Abdullah was rewarded in 1962 with command of the Saudi National Guard.

• In 1975 King Khalid, Faisal's successor, appointed him deputy prime minister, and seven years later 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 country and became king after Fahd died in 2005.

• When al Qaeda suicide bombers began a wave of attacks in 2003 aimed at toppling the House of Saud and severing links with an "infidel" West he launched an unprecedented crackdown, warning the battle could last for decades.

• In a family famed for lavish excesses, Abdullah's fondness for retreats at his desert camp marks him out from other princes who preferred to spend summers in Mediterranean palaces.

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