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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Dies - Leader Promoted Stability in Face of Democratic and Islamist Movements That Have Roiled Arab World

From The Wall Street Journal:

RIYADH— King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who insulated Saudi Arabia from the Islamist and democratic forces roiling the Middle East in the name of stability, died early Friday at about age 90, the royal court said.

Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, who is 79 years old, was declared king and Prince Muqrin, 69, became crown prince, according to the statement read on state television.

Born before his father founded the modern Saudi state in 1932, Abdullah focused his final years on internal and external security threats to a nation he had seen grow into an oil giant and center of political and religious power in the region.

In one of his final statements, an address this month before the consultative Shoura Council read by his half-brother and heir to the throne, Abdullah emphasized that his country was “blessed with security and stability” in the heart of a volatile region.

For Abdullah, who is widely believed to have run Saudi Arabia for the decade before his accession to the throne in 2005 following the death of his stroke-disabled brother King Fahd, stability was the paramount virtue. He abhorred the revolutions that brought religious fundamentalists to power in Iran in 1979 and unseated longtime fellow rulers in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia three decades later.

Abdullah was one of about 40 sons that Abdulaziz fathered by multiple wives, and with his death on Friday, he was immediately replaced by Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Because of his age, the prospects for a long reign for the former crown prince are slight.

The U.S. had an often fraught relationship with Abdullah in recent years, according to American and Arab officials. The late Saudi monarch was incensed by President Barack Obama ’s failure to follow through on his threats in 2013 to launch military strikes on the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons. And Riyadh didn’t believe the White House showed strong enough support for Middle East allies, particularly in Egypt, after the Arab Spring revolts in 2010.

Secret talks between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear program also were viewed in Riyadh as a sign of a weakening U.S.-Saudi alliance and evidence that the White House was willing to work behind Abdullah’s back, according to Saudi officials.

U.S. officials said they’ll seek to quickly work with Saudi Arabia’s new rulers to stanch the crises in the region, ranging from Yemen’s civil war to the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria. American officials have voiced concerns over whether the new monarch will be able to consolidate his power fast enough to respond to these regional threats.

Abdullah saw the future of Saudi Arabia and America as linked, and declared himself a loyal ally of the U.S. As he sought to buttress the kingdom’s status as the standard-bearer of the world’s Sunni Muslims and the region’s Sunni monarchies, he shared U.S. reservations over the regional ambitions of Shiite Muslim Iran.

Together with Washington, his government fought al Qaeda and its Saudi-born leader, Osama bin Laden , who was as determined to depose the House of Saud as he was to punish America for deploying “infidel” troops on Saudi soil. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, Saudi security forces all but eradicated the kingdom’s al Qaeda branch. Saudis have helped foil at least two new plots to bomb American airliners since 2010, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will lead a U.S. presidential delegation to Saudi Arabia to pay final respects to Abdullah.

In its defense of Sunni interests against what it viewed as Iranian and Shiite encroachment, Saudi Arabia led a Gulf military force into Bahrain in March 2011 to bolster the Sunni royal family there amid protests, some violent, by the island’s Shiite majority. One reason for the kingdom’s supply of arms and money to antigovernment rebels in Syria was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ’s ties to Iran and to Hezbollah, the Tehran-allied Lebanese Shiite military and political movement.

In recent years, the government has undertaken to reduce the size of the foreign work force that the country in its early years depended upon for its development. Immigrants, however, still make up more than 30% of the population, and Abdullah leaves behind a country still heavily reliant on cheap foreign labor to perform jobs most young Saudis, even unemployed ones, don’t want.


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