by Lady Michelle-Jennifer Santos
RIYADH, January 23, 2015 (TSR) – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has died on early Friday at the age of 90 and will be succeeded by his half-brother Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.
According to an official statement from the Royal Council, King Abdullah passed away at 1AM local time expressing its “great sadness and mourning”.
The official statement added that the funeral procession and burial will be held in Riyadh after evening prayers on Friday, and citizens would be invited to pledge allegiance to the new monarch and the crown prince at the royal palace, the statement said.
Salman, 79, had been defence minister and previously governor of the capital Riyadh.
Another of the late monarch’s half-brothers, Moqren, was named the new crown prince.
The royal court did not disclose the cause of Abdullah’s death, but he was hospitalised in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a tube.
Meanwhile, Crown Prince Salman has appeared on Saudi state television mourning King Abdullah.
Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief between 2005 and 2012, will replace Salman as Crown Prince
Saudi Arabian television channels run by MBC have meanwhile started playing Quranic verses to mourn the death of King Abdullah, who came to power in 2005.
King Abdullah had suffered from pneumonia in December and was admitted to the National Guard’s King Abdulaziz Medical City hospital in the capital Riyadh for treatment, raising concerns over the King’s health.
He reportedly underwent surgery in late 2012 for his back.
King Abdullah’s Policy on Syria and Iraq
On February 2014, King Abdullah issued a royal decree that any Saudi citizen who joins extremist terrorist groups or supports them materially or through incitement would face an even harsher punishment ranging from five to 30 years in jail.
Many young Saudi men have been encouraged to join the fight in Syria by influential Saudi clerics who follow the kingdom’s ultraconservative religious Wahhabi doctrine.
Foreign militants and extremists have infiltrated the Syrian opposition, triggering infighting that has undermined the rebellion.
On September that year, US President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Saudi King Abdullah which reportedly resulted into Saudi Arabia agreeing to open its bases for the training of Syrian militants dubbed the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) as part of an effort to better equip them in Syria infighting claimed by a senior US official who spoke in anonymity.
According to the official, the decision signaled a significant new role for the Saudi kingdom as full partner in the fight against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) terrorist group by increasing training and equipment for foreign-backed militants in Syria who are also fighting with Takfiri terrorists.
Saudi Royal family, which has already spent millions of dollars to held militant groups overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, did not favor Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and had been unwilling to support the formation of a new government unless Maliki stepped aside and promised not to seek a third term.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has blamed Saudi Arabia and foreign supporters for the security crisis and growing terrorism in his country, and denounced the Al Saud regime as a major supporter of global terrorism.
With radical militants now operating close to its border, Saudi Arabia assured U.S. Secretary of State Kerry to press Sunni parties to join the new government, which undercut Maliki’s chances of a third term.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been strong supporters of the militancy in the region through funding and supporting militant groups.
President Barack Obama has asked the U.S. Congress for authorization to arm and train the foreign-backed Syrian militants.
The use of Syrian militants is a key component of Obama’s strategy because the US has pursued a policy of hostility in dealing with the Syrian government.
The FSA militants are essentially in a two-front conflict, fighting both ISIL terrorists and the Syrian Army forces.
Succession Safe but Saudi Future Uncertain
His Majesty King Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia since the mid-1990s and seen as the careful reformer, faced challenges as he tried to modernise the kingdom, Daily Telegraph reports.
Salman’s rise to the throne postpones the question of when the Saudi monarchy will turn to the next generation of princes to run the country of 28 million people at a crucial moment in a region mired in crisis which also impacts the world at large.
Saudi Arabia, which self-consciously retains not only an absolute monarchy but many of trappings of the tribal, religious and traditionalist attitudes of its founders and a member of OPEC, is vital for a world that relies both pragmatically on Saudi oil and politically on the influence on the followers of Islam, whose holiest places it controls.
While observers in Riyadh widely predicted a smooth transition to Salman, his poor health means his rule could be relatively short. Should there be a power struggle to succeed him, it could leave a vacuum in the Middle East at a critical time. Saudi Arabia is a key member of the US-led coalition against the ISIS extremist group and a major ally of the government that just fell in neighboring Yemen.
“Despite so many people saying it will be a smooth transition, there’s every reason to believe that Saudi Arabia is heading for rough times,” Simon Henderson, an expert on the Saudi succession at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview on Thursday.
“Having a king with dementia is the last thing they need at this difficult time,” Henderson said. “Yemen is falling apart, Isis is knocking at the door . . . this is an extraordinarily dangerous Middle East from a Saudi perspective.”
By Saudi tradition, the crown passes down among the sons of national founder King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who died in 1953. Salman would be the sixth son to be king, and few of his remaining brothers – out of at least 35 who were alive when the father died – are believed to be healthy or qualified to assume the throne.
In an apparent bid to preempt quarrels about succession – and also secure the line for his own favored branch of the family – Abdullah last year took the unprecedented step of anointing a deputy heir, Prince Muqrin, 71, his youngest brother.
As Crown Prince, Salman, though from a grouping of princes seen as more politically conservative than King Abdullah, have signed off on recent reforms and other political decisions.
Prince Muqrin is seen as the closest to King Abdullah of all the surviving royal brothers who control Saudi politics. At a relatively youthful 69, he will presumably have some years left to him both as Crown Prince and then King to ensure that his mentor’s legacy of gradual – very gradual – reform is honoured and even expanded upon.
Muqrin is said to be smart and is well liked by ordinary Saudis; he also has good ties with Saudi Arabia’s most important ally, the United States. But the choice sparked fierce opposition from some of the many excluded princes, who complained that Abdullah was defying a tradition that allows each king to name his own heir. Additionally, Muqrin’s mother was a Yemeni concubine, not a Saudi princess, and some in the family reportedly consider his lineage too impure for him to wear the crown.
By Saudi tradition, King Salman would be free to choose his own successor-in-waiting, but it is widely believed here that he would simply elevate Muqrin from deputy to crown prince.
At that point, the Saudi royal family would face a far more complicated puzzle about who would succeed Muqrin, but it would almost certainly be a prince from the next generation, the grandchildren of Abdul Aziz. Hundreds of princes belong to that generation.
The succession process is conducted by the Allegiance Council, a body created by Abdullah. It consists of 35 senior princes, all sons and grandsons of Abdul Aziz, who meet in secret to choose a new leader when the king dies.
The vast al-Saud family is believed to be riven by factions. But historically, the family has managed to come together with the primary goal of preserving their iron rule.
Even if the feuds are contained behind palace doors, though, the squabbles could paralyze decision-making in the kingdom at a critical time.
As with everywhere else in the world, globalisation and social media have revealed and encouraged a greater diversity of views and lifestyles in the Kingdom than those outsiders it held at bay for so long – most of the rest of the world – ever realised.
Statistics who that Saudi now has the highest proportion of Twitter users of any in the world. Their tweets reveal an extraordinary and unpredictable melange of hardline Islamists, traditionalist monarchists, liberals, feminists, and many others. With no experience of democracy – or apparent intent to introduce any time soon – it remains unclear how the monarchy plans to channel all these different views.
Henderson said there could be far more maneuvering than the royal family will admit. He said some would privately argue that Salman is not of sound enough mind to run the country, and other factions would push their own favorites.
“The trick is always to try and understand their logic and not be too confined by our own logic,” he said. “Their logic is different. They hate the idea of public show of disunity. So they’ll try to cover that up completely.”
Henderson said “Western logic” would suggest that the Saudis would be smarter to pass over Salman in favor of Muqrin or a next-generation king to lead the country at an increasingly complex and violent time. Saudi borders a part of Iraq where the ISIS is influential, and its southern neighbor, Yemen, is in the midst of a power struggle that Saudis believe will strengthen Iran, its regional rival.
King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin, the latter the youngest son of Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud and therefore the last who will be king, have some serious thinking to do before the next generation of the family follows in their line.
But few believe inside or out that a nation in which a single family sits in power and gilded splendour while many of its people languish in voteless poverty is sustainable in the long run.
To its comfort, oil and foreign currency reserves gives Saudi Arabia its economic breathing space, and its alliance with the West diplomatic breathing space at least, to come up with some new ideas for modernisation.
Sources: News Agencies