Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

King Abdullah: A charismatic and groundbreaking leader | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrives at Heathrow Airport in west London in this October 29, 2007 file photo. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrives at Heathrow Airport in west London in this October 29, 2007 file photo. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrives at Heathrow Airport in west London in this October 29, 2007 file photo. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Late Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud safely navigated Saudi Arabia through a period of extreme change, regionally and internationally.

Despite facing numerous challenges and adversities, the much-loved monarch ensured that the Kingdom enjoyed a major international presence on all political, economic and diplomatic levels.

Thanks to the groundbreaking vision of the late monarch, Saudi Arabia became a symbol of the modern state while holding fast to the country’s religious and cultural heritage, something which earned him the respect and admiration of many nations.

The effective administration of the Kingdom represented a major tenet of King Abdullah’s philosophy of leadership. He established an administrative system that fostered development across different fields.

King Abdullah also held a unique charisma that endeared him to all people, including his influential international partners and peers.

He was known for his clarity of thought and courage in tackling domestic and regional issues. King Abdullah marked out a careful path for the Kingdom, balancing between its domestic and international needs.

The King was born in 1924 at the royal palace in Riyadh. He came of age witnessing the epic real-life exploits of his father, Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, who unified the Kingdom.

King Abdul-Aziz’s patriotic deeds strongly influenced King Abdullah’s personality, filling him with admiration for his Arab and Muslim forefathers.

It is hard to determine which of his achievements will be regarded as the jewel in the crown of his reign in the coming years. King Abdullah ascended to the throne in 2005, becoming the sixth king of Saudi Arabia. The new King strove to fight poverty, unemployment and illiteracy by leading a major development initiative. He was particularly dedicated to reforming Saudi Arabia’s educational and judicial systems as part of his deep conviction that these sectors play a pivotal role in any society’s development.

On an international level, King Abdullah launched a series of initiatives aimed at broadening the Kingdom’s horizons and opening up Saudi Arabia to the outside world, promoting dialogue between world cultures, faiths and nations. One significant landmark in King Abdullah’s reign was Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Riyadh in 2008, which highlighted the Kingdom’s commitment to bridging cultural and religious divides.

As a child, King Abdullah was raised in an environment that promoted knowledge and religious learning under the care of his father and mother, Fahda Bint Asi Al-Shuraim, a descendent of the prominent Shammar tribe, one of the largest and most influential Bedouin tribes in the Arabian Peninsula.

He received his early religious education in the care of some of the Kingdom’s most prestigious Islamic scholars and intellectuals.

His extensive reading on Islamic jurisprudence, history, politics and literature shaped his views and boosted his interest in culture and philosophy. He established the King Abdulaziz Public Library in Riyadh and its branch in Casablanca, Morocco.

Thanks to King Abdullah’s wisdom and shrewd leadership, Saudi Arabia maintained strong ties with world powers despite the challenges that faced Arab and Muslim countries in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The late monarch also managed to fight terrorism in the Kingdom and beyond and established the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre.

King Abdullah pursued a diplomatic approach aimed at boosting development through forging strong economic ties and partnerships with major global economic powers. His trips to China, India, Hong Kong and Pakistan, among others, resulted in economic treaties and agreements in the billions of dollars.

King Abdullah laid the foundations for an influential Arab and Islamic role in world politics, formulating a strategic vision and spearheading efforts on key issues in the region and beyond.

On the foreign policy front, King Abdullah lobbied for international peace and welfare and championed issues of Arab solidarity and cooperation.

In 2002, when he was still Crown Prince, he submitted an eight-point proposal for a comprehensive peace settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, now known as the Arab Peace Initiative or “Abdullah Plan”, which is still included in governments’ policies across the globe.

In 2000, he proposed the establishment of a billion-dollar fund, dubbed the Jerusalem Intifada, to be given to the families of the Palestinian martyrs who fell during the Intifada.

He also adopted peace initiatives for several Arab and Muslim countries, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Chad.

Within the Middle East, King Abdullah called for Arab unity and solidarity by emphasizing the need to promote brotherhood and renounce differences between fraternal Arab states.

Although his death early Friday morning represents a significant blow to the Kingdom, King Abdullah’s diligence and wisdom ensured that succession proceeded flawlessly with King Salman Bin Abdulaziz ascending to the throne and Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz being appointed as the new Crown Prince.