The first 100 days of the reign of Kind Abdullah bin Abdulaziz have seen the monarch grant amnesty to the men who planned his murder and order the release of five Saudi political activists, four of whom had been sentenced to several years in prison. With his forgiving and positive outlook, King Abdullah has undoubtedly captured the hearts and minds of many Saudis who recognize his graciousness, chivalry, and his attitudes inboth personal and official matters.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is not new to his post. In practice, in the last ten years, as Crown Prince and de-facto ruler, His Royal Highness has managed the affairs of the Kingdom on a daily basis. Now that he has solved the problem of the most notorious prisoners in Saudi Arabia , what other problems are piling on his desk? Many issues require King Abdullah’s personal intervention; solving these problems will not be as straightforward as some newspapers have been suggesting. Determined to find a resolution, His Royal Highness will surely succeed.
Unemployment is the single most pressing the Kingdom currently faces. With almost 60% of the population under 25, at the end of every academic year, the number of young people unable to find employment continues to rise. Some depend on their families to support them whilst others become a danger to society. It is estimated that one fifth of Saudi men are currently unemployed. The rate is much higher for women due to restrictions in place on their employment. Quick solutions to this crisis do not exist, except through increasing the employment of Saudis in the public sector which already suffers from being a source of hidden unemployment.
Education is also a problem as critics argue it fuels high unemployment because of its low standards and inability to produce graduates qualified for the Saudi job market. As such, soon after they graduate from university, thousands of students from across the Kingdom join the ranks of the unemployed. Another major question, namely repaying the debts accumulated by the government, has already been resolved by decisions taken by the King, in private. When the price of oil rose four years ago, His Royal Highness made the issue a priority. This was one of the main reasons oil markets flourished as buyers trusted the Saudi government’s ability to repay its debts.
Social problems, over fifty years old, are also in need of a solution, as they worsen with the passage of time. Women’s status in Saudi society continues to preoccupy many, in the Kingdom and abroad, especially concerning their right to drive, work, and political participation. During his time as Crown Prince, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz started to address the subject of wider political reform. His efforts resulted in the first municipal elections being held and promises have been made to hold popular elections for other government bodies such as the Shura Concil (consultative council) in the future.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is well aware of the dangers of terrorism as he has addressed developments in this regard as Crown Prince. When a wave of bombings took place across the Kingdom and militant al Qaeda cells were discovered, observes doubted Riyadh’s ability to face up to the danger. After extensive police operations, security has been restored in the past two years. Nevertheless, the war on terror will continue for a long time to come, especially with regard to the extremist ideologies that continue to produce new militant extremists.
* This is the first part of a two-part series examinging the challenegs faced by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz as he ascends to the throne of Saudi Arabia.