Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud
عبد الله بن عبد العزيز آل سعود
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
King of Saudi Arabia
Reign August 1, 2005
Bayaa August 2, 2005
Predecessor Fahd
Heir apparent Nayef
5th Commander of the Saudi National Guard
In Office January 26, 1963 – November 16, 2010
Predecessor Saad bin Saud bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud
Successor Mutaib bin Abdullah
Full name
Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz bin Abdul-Rahman bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Saud
House House of Saud
Father Abdul-Aziz
Mother Fahda bint Asi Al Shuraim[1]
Born August 1, 1924 (1924-08-01) (age 87)
Riyadh, Kingdom of Hejaz
Religion Sunni Islam

Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, (Arabic: عبد الله بن عبد العزيز آل سعود‘Abd ullāh ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Su‘ūd) (born August 1, 1924[2]; sometimes wrongly mentioned as August 1, 1921)[3] is the King of Saudi Arabia. He succeeded to the throne on 1 August 2005 upon the death of his half-brother, King Fahd. When Crown Prince, he governed Saudi Arabia as regent from 1998 to 2005. He was Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard from 1962 to November 2010, and is one of the world's wealthiest royals.[4]


Second Deputy Prime Minister

Abdullah with US Vice President Dan Quayle

King Khalid appointed Abdullah as Second Deputy Prime Minister, which is second in line of succession to the Saudi throne. However, Abdullah's appointment caused friction in the House of Saud.[3] Fahd and the Sudairi Seven supported the appointment of their own full brother, Sultan.[3] Abdullah was pressured to concede control of SANG in return for his appointment as Second Deputy Prime Minister. In August 1977, this caused a debate between hundreds of princes in Riyadh.[3] Abdullah did not concede authority of SANG because he feared that would weaken his authority.[3]

Crown Prince

In May 1982, when Fahd became King, Abdullah became Crown Prince the same day. He maintained his position as head of the armed forces.

When Fahd was incapacitated by a major stroke in 1995,[5] Abdullah acted as de facto regent ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah with US President George W. Bush

In August 2001, he ordered Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan to return to Washington. This reportedly occurred after Abdullah witnessed a brutality between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian woman.[6] He later also condemned Israel for attacking families of accused suspects.[6]

On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, the then-prince wrote a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, which ended with:

"God Almighty, in His wisdom, tests the faithful by allowing such calamities to happen. But He, in His mercy, also provides us with the will and determination, generated by faith, to enable us to transform such tragedies into great achievements, and crises that seem debilitating are transformed into opportunities for the advancement of humanity. I only hope that, with your cooperation and leadership, a new world will emerge out of the rubble of the World Trade Center: a world that is blessed by the virtues of freedom, peace, prosperity and harmony."[7]

King of Saudi Arabia

Abdullah succeeded to the throne upon the death of his half-brother King Fahd. He was formally enthroned on August 3, 2005. At age 87, he is one of the world's oldest reigning monarchs. He has topped the 500 Most Influential Muslims list for two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010.[8][9]

Domestic affairs

He has implemented many reform measures. He has re-shuffled the Ministry of Education's leadership in February 2009 by bringing in the King's pro-reform son-in-law as the new minister. He also at the same time appointed Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, a US-educated former teacher, as deputy education minister in charge of a new department for female students.[10]

He has done a top-to-bottom restructuring of the country's courts to introduce, among other things, review of judicial decisions and more professional training for Shari'a judges. He has been responsible for the creation of a new investment promotion agency to overhaul the once-convoluted process of starting a business in Saudi Arabia. He has created a regulatory body for capital markets. He has promoted the construction of the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (the country's new flagship and controversially-coed institution for advanced scientific research). He has done a substantial budgetary investment in educating the workforce for future jobs. The Saudi government is also encouraging the development of non-hydrocarbon sectors in which the Kingdom has a comparative advantage, including mining, solar energy, and religious tourism. The Kingdom's 2010 budget reflects these priorities—about 25 percent is devoted to education alone—and amounts to a significant economic stimulus package.[11][12]

In 2005, he implemented a government scholarship program to send young Saudi men and women to Western universities for undergraduate and postgraduate studies. The program offers funds for tuition and living expenses up to four years. It is estimated that more than 70,000 students have studied abroad in more than 25 countries. United States, England, and Australia are the top three destinations mostly aimed for by the young Saudi students. There are now more than 22,000 Saudi students studying in the US, exceeding pre-9/11 levels. Public health engagement has included breast cancer awareness and CDC cooperation to set up an advanced epidemic screening network that protected this year's 3 million Hajj pilgrims.[11][13]

King Abdullah with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 11, 2007.

The response of his administration to homegrown terrorism has been a series of crackdowns including raids by security forces, arrests, torture[14] and public beheadings. He has vowed to fight terrorist ideologies within the country. He has made the protection of Saudi Arabia's critical infrastructure a top security priority.[15]

His strategy against terrorism has been two-pronged: he has attacked the roots of the extremism that fed Al-Qaida through education and judicial reforms to weaken the influence of the most reactionary elements of Saudi Arabia's religious establishment. He is also promoting economic diversification. He decreed in August 2010 that only officially approved religious scholars associated with the Senior Council of Ulema would be allowed to issue fatwas. Similar decrees since 2005 were previously seldom enforced. Individual fatwas relating to personal matters were exempt from the royal decree. The decree also instructed the Grand Mufti to identify eligible scholars.[16]

In light of the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests, Abdullah has laid down a $37-billion programme of new spending including new jobless benefits, education and housing subsidies, debt write-offs, and a new sports channel. There was also a pledged to spend a total of $400bn by the end of 2014 to improve education, health care and the kingdom’s infrastructure.[17] Saudi police arrested 100 Shiite protesters who complained of government discrimination.[18] In September, 2011, the king announced women's right to vote in the 2015 municipal council elections, a first significant reform step in the country since the protests. He also stated that women would become eligible to take part in the unelected shura.[19][20]

Interfaith dialogue

In November 2007, he visited Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Palace. He is the first Saudi monarch to visit the Pope.[21]

In March 2008, he called for a “brotherly and sincere dialogue between believers from all religions.”[22]

In June 2008, he held a conference at Mecca to urge Muslim leaders to speak with one voice with Jewish and Christian leaders.[23] He discussed and took approval of the Saudi Islamic scholars and the world's renowned Islamic scholars to hold the interfaith dialogue. In the same month, Saudi Arabia and Spain agreed to hold the interfaith dialogue in Spain.[24] The historic conference finally took place in Madrid in July 2008 where religious leaders of different faiths participated.[25]

He had never earlier made any overtures for dialogue with eastern religious leaders such as Hindus and Buddhists. The Mecca conference discussed an important paper on the dialogue with the followers of monotheistic religions highlighting the monotheistic religions of southeast Asia including Sikhism in the third axis of the fourth meeting titled "With Whom We Talk" presented by Sheikh Badrul Hasan Al Qasimi. The session was chaired by Dr. Ezz Eddin Ibrahim, Adviser to the President of the United Arab Emirates for Culture. The session also discussed a paper presented on coordination among Islamic institutions on Dialogue by Dr. Abdullah bin Omar Nassif, Secretary General of the World Islamic Council for Preaching and Relief and a paper on dialogue with divine messages, presented by Professor Mohammad Sammak – Secretary General of the Islamic Spiritual Summit in Lebanon.

On November 2008, he and his government were responsible for the 'Peace of Culture' which took place at the United Nations General Assembly. It brought together Muslim and non-Muslim nations to eradicate the preconception of Islam and Terrorism. It brought together leaders including former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair, Israeli President Shimon Peres, former U.S. President George W. Bush and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Arab nationalism

He has called for the establishment of an Arab common market. His foreign minister stated the Arab Customs Union would be ready by 2015 and by 2017 the common market would also be in place. There have been intensive efforts to link Arab countries with a railway system and an electricity power grid. Work on the power grid project has started in some Arab countries.[26]

United States

Abdullah visits the United States in April 2005

In October 1976, as Prince Abdullah was being trained for greater responsibility in Riyadh, he was sent to the United States to meet with President Gerald Ford. He again traveled to the United States as Crown Prince in October 1987, meeting Vice President George H. W. Bush. In September 1998, Crown Prince Abdullah made a state visit to the United States to meet in Washington, D.C. with President Bill Clinton. In September 2000, he attended millennium celebrations at the United Nations in New York City. In April 2002, Crown Prince Abdullah made a state visit to the United States with President George W. Bush and he returned again in April 2005 with Bush. In April 2009, at a summit for world leaders U.S. President Barack Obama met him. In June 2009, Abdullah hosted President Obama in Saudi Arabia. In turn, Obama hosted Abdullah at the White House in the same month.

He has shown great support for Obama's presidency. "Thank God for bringing Obama to the presidency," he said, adding that Obama's election created "great hope" in the Muslim world.[27] He stated, "We (the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) spilled blood together" in Kuwait and Iraq and Saudi Arabia valued this tremendously and friendship can be a difficult issue that requires work but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have done it for 70 years over three generations. "Our disagreements don't cut to the bone," he stated.[28] He was the leading gift-giver to the U.S. president and his office in his first two years in office, his gifts totaling more than $300,000. A ruby and diamond jewelry set, given by the king and accepted by Michelle Obama on behalf of the United States, was worth $132,000.[29] However, according to federal law, gifts of such nature and value are accepted "on behalf of the United States" and are considered property of the U.S. government.

He said that "it was a mistake" to limit access of Saudi citizens to the United States.[citation needed]


The Bush Administration ignored advice from him and Saudi foreign minister Saud Al Faisal against invading Iraq.[15] However, other sources say that many Arab governments were only nominally opposed to the Iraq invasion because of popular hostility.[30] Before becoming king, Abdullah was thought to be completely against the U.S. invasion of Iraq; this, however, was not the case. Riyadh provided essential support to the United States during the war and proved that "necessity does lead to some accommodations from time to time." [31] The King expressed a complete lack of trust in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and held out little hope for improved Saudi-Iraqi relations as long as al-Maliki remains in office.[28] King Abdullah told an Iraqi official about Nouri al-Maliki, “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” [32]


In April 2008, he told US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and US General David Petraeus to "cut off the head of the snake". Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir recalled the King's frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and to put an end to its nuclear weapons program." [33] Abdullah asserted that Iran is trying to set up Hezbollah-like organizations in African countries, observing that the Iranians don't think they are doing anything wrong and don't recognize their mistakes. He said the Iranians "launch missiles with the hope of putting fear in people and the world." The King described his conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki as "a heated exchange, frankly discussing Iran's interference in Arab affairs." When challenged by the King on Iranian meddling in Hamas affairs, Mottaki apparently protested that "these are Muslims." "No, Arabs" countered the King, "You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters." Abdullah said he would favor Rafsanjani in an Iranian election.[27][34]

He told General Jones that Iranian internal turmoil presented an opportunity to weaken the regime—which he encouraged—but he also urged that this be done covertly and stressed that public statements in support of the reformers were counterproductive. The King assessed that sanctions could help weaken the government, but only if they are strong and sustained.[11]

In 2006, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei had sent his adviser Ali Akbar Velayati with a letter asking for Abdullah's agreement to establish a formal back channel for communication between the two leaders. Abdullah said he had agreed, and the channel was established with Velayati and Saud Al-Faisal as the points of contact. In the years since, the King noted, the channel had never been used.[34]

Guantánamo Bay

In December 2010, leaked diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks revealed that Abdullah wanted all detainees released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be tracked through an implanted microchip, in a similar way to race horses. The King made the private suggestion during a meeting in Riyadh in March 2009 with John O. Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser. Brennan replied that "horses don't have good lawyers" and that such a proposal would "face legal hurdles" in the United States. In the same cables it was revealed that Abdullah also privately urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.[35][28]


Since Abdullah's visit to Beijing in January 2006, the Saudi-Chinese relationship has focused predominantly on energy and trade. The king's visit was the first by a Saudi head of state to China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1990. [36][37] Bilateral trade with China has more than tripled, and China will soon be Saudi Arabia's largest importer. Saudi Arabia has also committed significant investments in China, including the $8 billion Fujian refinery. Based on the cablegate wikileaks report: The King has told the Chinese that it is willing to effectively trade a guaranteed oil supply in return for Chinese pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.[11]

Foreign relations with other nations

In a November 2009, the King was received by Nicolas Sarkozy who committed various diplomatic faux pas. The diplomatic relationship Jacques Chirac had with Saudi Arabia was not evident with Sarkozy.[38][38] In January 2011, the Kingdom granted asylum to the ousted Tunisian leader, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, under conditions of no further political involvement.[26]

Saudi Arabia, by the endorsement of the Gulf Cooperation Council, sent 1200 troops to Bahrain to protect industrial facilities which resulted in a strained relations with the United States. It should be mentioned that the forces sent were not Saudi forces but rather a coalition from a multitude of Arab Gulf countries. The military personnel sent were part of the Peninsula Shield forces who are stationed in Saudi Arabia but not affiliated with one country alone.[18][39][40][41]

According to leaked cables, he was more receptive than Crown Prince Sultan, to Yemeni President Saleh.[42]

He has supported renewed diplomatic relations with the Syrian government and Bashar al-Assad. Assad attended the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in October 2009. In August, 2011, he recalled the Saudi Ambassador from Damascus due to the political unrest in Syria.


On February 16, 2003, Parade Magazine's David Wallechinsky rated King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah as the second worst dictator in the world.[43] Most of this criticism stems from the fact that most of his citizens live under a strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, which mandates the amputation of hands as a punishment for theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness.[44] Execution by public beheading is common for murder, rape, drug trafficking, and witchcraft, and Abdullah's polices towards the rights of women have also been criticized. In a slight rebuff to accusations of human rights violations, Saudi inmates of Najran sent the King well-wishes from jail and wished him a speedy recovery.[45]

Abdullah has also been criticized for his policies on religious freedom, which is reportedly non-existent, and the Saudi government allegedly has arrested Shiite pilgrims on the Hajj [46]. On January 24, 2007, Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to King Abdullah asking him to cease religious persecution of the Ahmadi faith in Saudi Arabia. Two letters were sent in November 2006 and February 2007 asking him to remove the travel ban on critics of the Saudi government.[47] Human Rights Watch has not yet indicated whether they have received any response to these letters.

On October 30, 2007, during a state visit to the United Kingdom, Abdullah was greeted by protesters accusing him of being a "murderer" and a "torturer". Concerns were raised in the UK about the treatment of women and homosexuals by the Saudi kingdom. Concerns were also raised over alleged bribes involving arms deals between Saudi Arabia and the UK.[48]

Succession to the throne

King Abdullah's half brother Crown Prince Sultan was his designated successor until his death on October 22, 2011. The apparent next in line is Sultan's full brother, Prince Nayef[49]

In 2006, Abdullah set up the Allegiance Council, a body that is composed of the sons and grandsons of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul-Aziz, to vote by a secret ballot to choose future kings and crown princes. The council's mandate would not have started until after the reigns of both Abdullah and Sultan are over. It is not clear, however, what will happen now that Sultan has died before the end of Abdullah's reign, leaving a question as to whether the council would vote for a new crown prince or whether Nayef would automatically fill that position.[50]

On November 2010, Prince Nayef chaired a cabinet meeting because of the deterioration of the King's health.[51] During the same month, King Abdullah transferred his duties as Commander of the Saudi National Guard to his son Prince Mutaib. Abdullah is credited with building up the once largely ceremonial unit into a modern 260,000-strong force that is a counterweight to the army. The Guard, which was Abdullah's original power base, protects the royal family. This was suggested as an apparent sign that the elderly monarch is beginning to lessen some of his duties.[52]

Various positions

King Abdullah was Commander of the Saudi National Guard from 1963 to 2010. He is Chairman of the Supreme Economic Council, President of the High Council for Petroleum and Minerals, President of the King Abdulaziz Center For National Dialogue, Chairman of the Council of Civil Service, and head of the Military Service Council.

Personal life


Abdullah is the sixth son (out of 37 sons) of King Abdul-Aziz,[citation needed] the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to ascend to the throne. He is, after his half-brothers Bandar and Musaid, the third eldest of the living sons of Abdul-Aziz.

His mother is a فهدة العاصي الشريم Al-Rashidi, longtime rivals of the Al Saud.[53] He has had more than thirty wives, and has fathered at least thirty-five children. [54] His youngest son was born in 2003.[55] His son Prince Mutaib is the Commander of the National Guard. His son Prince Mishaal is the Governor of the Najran Province.[56] His daughter Princess Adila is married to Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Muhammad, the new Education Minister appointed in 2009. Adila is one of the few Saudi princesses with a semi-public role and a known advocate of women's right to drive.[57] His son Prince Abdul-Aziz is his Syrian adviser.[58]


The king has curtailed his activities since June 2010 with no clear explanation. Diplomats said there has been uncertainty about the extent of his health problems since Abdullah canceled a visit to France. In a television appearance in which he was seen to use a cane, King Abdullah said he was in good health but had something "bothering" him.

In November 2010, his back problems came to light in the media. He had an "accumulation of blood" around the spinal cord. He suffered from a herniated disc and was told to rest by doctors. Later, an expected—but never officially announced—visit by then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became a phone call between the two leaders instead.[59] He was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital after a blood clot complicated a slipped disc and underwent successful back surgery. The surgeons probably removed the herniated disk and performed a lumbar fusion.[60][61][62] He had another successful surgery in which surgeons "stabilized a number of vertebras".[63] He left the hospital on December 21 and convalesced at the New York Plaza Hotel.[64] On January 22, he left the United States and went to Morocco.[65] He then returned to the Kingdom on 23 February 2011.[66][67]

Saudi authorities have been unusually open in going public with the king's condition, apparently in an effort to prevent any speculation and reassure allies of the key Mideast nation and oil power. Personal issues within the royal family are often kept under strict wraps.[68] To maintain the Kingdom's stability, Crown Prince Sultan returned from Morocco at the time.[69]


  • King Abdullah paid for the separation surgery of a pair of Polish conjoined twins, which took place at the King Abd al-Aziz Medical City in Riyadh on January 3, 2005. He was given "honorary citizenship" by the Polish town of Janikowo, where the twins were born. On March 18, 2005, he was awarded the Order of the Smile (which he received during his visit to Poland in 2007).
  • He has established two libraries, the King Abdulaziz Library in Riyadh and another in Casablanca, Morocco.
  • He donated over $300,000 to furnish a New Orleans high school rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
  • He established the King Abdullah University (Rawalakot) in Pakistan's Azad Jammu and Kashmir region after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
  • On February 5, 2011, he waived $156 million USD of housing loans for nearly 3,300 Saudis who had died.[72]


His wealth and personal income is estimated at US$21 billion, ranking him as one of the richest royals in the world.[4]

See also


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  2. ^ http://www.saudiembassy.net/about/KingAbdullah.aspx
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  12. ^ Lindsey, Ursula (2010-10-03). "Saudi Arabia's Education Reforms Emphasize Training for Jobs - Global - The Chronicle of Higher Education". Chronicle.com. http://chronicle.com/article/Saudi-Arabias-Education/124771/. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
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External links

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Born: 1924
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Saudi Arabia
2005 – present

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