Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- When King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ascended to the throne, less than a year ago, he pledged to bring social and economic justice to all Saudis, without distinction. In his first speech as monarch, he also linked national unity to adherence to Islam. True to his words, in his first year in power, national dialogue and development were at the helm of his priorities. King Abdullah does not shy away from discussing any idea; he carefully examines every economic, political, social, cultural and educational decision taken in Saudi Arabia each day and examines their impact on citizens.
However, what most distinguishes King Abdullah is that he is a good listener, who gives his advisors and ministers the chance to have an input on the issues at stake. He only makes a decision after he has heard everyone’s point of view. Given his interest in keeping track of the state of affairs, he continuously asks about the latest economic developments, according to Dr. Abdul Rahman al Tuwaijiri, Secretary General of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the Capital Market Authority. “He is the best follower of the stock market.”
Faisal Abdul Rahman Bin Moammar, Secretary General of the King Abdulaziz center for national dialogue, and the supervisor of the King Abdulaziz Public Library, revealed that after the library’s inauguration, the Saudi monarch eagerly commented on the number of visitors to the library during his trip to and from the palace. The national dialogue and the economy were two of the King’s highest priorities. When the stock market index fell sharply in February this year, to 14900 points, the King intervened to ease people’s suffering. He announced a new initiative, which boosted the market.
According to Dr. al Tuwaijiri, King Abdullah is very concerned with the stock market; he follows it closely and understands how it affects ordinary citizens. “King Abdullah is a keen follower of the market. He follows it with us continuously. The King’s biggest concern is the life of ordinary citizens. He asks about the effect of every proposal put to him on the lives of ordinary citizens and asks that these proposals are studied with care. Whenever an economic policy is suggested to him, King Abdullah always asks: How does this affect ordinary citizens?” Ordinary citizens have personally experienced this when he announced, during a press conference with journalists from across the Gulf, the creation of a fund for low-income families. He had acted after taking into consideration his feelings towards the people and his desire to offer them a better life. Dr. al Tuwaijiri said that when King Abdullah appointed him to head the Capital Market Authority, his instructions were to focus primarily on the needs of ordinary citizens and their best interest. On the economic projects that King Abdullah has put forward, al Tuwaijiri said, “During meetings, King Abdullah is a good listener who gives the speaker the chance to discuss the issues and he makes a decision only after hearing everyone’s opinion. He will not make a decision until he has fully examined it and has asked experts for their opinions in the issue.”
King Abdullah’s philosophy is based on economic development and social justice. When he embarked on a visit to the Eastern Region, Hail, al Qassim and Medina, he reiterated his non-distinction between one region and another. At the time, he said, “Dear brothers… your Kingdom will continue to bring benefits to all its citizens, brothers and friends, as well as humanity as a whole.” “The Kingdom is working on developing regions which have not received their fair share of development and is earmarking additional funds to develop it and their services,” the Saudi monarch said in Hail.
Dr. Osama Abu Gharara, former Deputy Minister for Industrial Affairs and current member of the Consultative Council, said that when King Abdullah met members of the Majlis al Shura, he stressed that developments should extend to all regions of Saudi Arabia. He added that the King’s support of stable oil prices was an indication of his concern for a stable economic policy that boosts growth. The establishment of economic cities, including King Abdullah economic city in Rabigh, Prince Abdulaziz bin Musaid economic city in Hail, the city of knowledge in Medina and the King Abdullah financial centre in Riyadh, were examples of his eagerness to usher in a period of continuous economic growth. In his speech on the need to create a fund for low-income families, King Abdullah indicated that development was intricately linked to social justice and would improve living conditions for all Saudis, according to Abu Gharara. In turn, the meeting of the Majlis al Shura members and the head of the investment committee, where the subject of economic cities was discussed, demonstrated the determination to develop these regions, in order to attract investors and civilians.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ speeches, as Crown Prince and since his ascendancy to the throne in August 2005, have been focused and clear. They have included many decisions and a vision to spur economic development in Saudi Arabia. In a speech to mark the late King Fahd’s approval to establish the King Abdulaziz centre for national dialogue, the then Crown Prince Abdullah said, “I have no doubt that establishing the centre and continuing the dialogue under its auspices will be a historical achievement and will have far-reaching consequences in the fight against extremism and develop the creation of a clean atmosphere, from which wise views and enlightened opinions will emanate, rejecting terrorism and terrorist thought.”
Faisal bin Abdul Rahman bin Moammar, secretary general of the King Abdulaziz centre for national dialogue and the supervisor of the King Abdulaziz public library, told Asharq al Awsat the Saudi monarch’s vision for dialogue was based on his conviction that dialogue is one of the main pillars of continuity. He said that King Abdullah was adamant that culture be the core component of awareness for members of Saudi society. His annual meetings with visitors at al Janadriya festival are evidence of his interest in culture. King Abdullah has sponsored scientific talent and established the King Abdulaziz Public Library and its branches. His decision to use part of his palace to establish the library and a mosque beside it is proof of the great attention he gives to religion, education and knowledge. Ibn Moammar said that, after the Library opened its doors, King Abdullah was eager to provide feedback on the public’s use of the library and was keen to note the number of visitors. He also asked the Public Library to inaugurate a cultural project in order to revitalize the interest in books and reading. King Abdullah does not like dividing the nation into categories based on ideology or thought, and a few days ago, signalled his outright rejection of categorization which has become more common in Saudi society with labels such as “secular”, “liberal” or “Islamist extremist” being used by individuals “either out of ignorance or bad faith,” as he described them. In his speech in al Qassim, King Abdullah stressed that all Saudi citizens were “faithful” to their country and refused to doubt anyone’s beliefs or nationalism “unless, there is categorical proof that calls to doubt someone”.
When King Abdullah stood under the dome of the Majlis al Shura during the opening ceremony earlier this year, he said, “… Islam calls for providing a good life to its sons and our way of achieving this is through comprehensive development, which we will seek to accomplish, hoping to give the citizen housing, jobs, education, medical treatment and other services. We are eager to combat poverty and show interest in regions which have not received their fair share of development according to studied development plans… we cannot remain idle while the world around us is changing.”
Chief Lieutenant Mohammed bin Faisal Abu Saq, member of the Legislative Council, said: King Abdullah’s speech is a constitution; it embodies reality in the Kingdom and reflects the aspirations of the leaders towards achieving a better future. The speech strengthens the trust of every citizen that this speech is “a national vision for the future” which represents a safe roadmap for the future that can be implemented and a method to take the country from its current situation to a distinguished state of affairs across the country.
In a speech during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of King Saud University in May 2006, King Abdullah said, “The University is not an average institution. It is a wealth of knowledge, which is passed one from one generation to another. It is the library which includes treasures from every era and in every language, it is the laboratory from which the innovation of the teacher starts off and where the young individual spends his best years and has the richest experience and friendships… I have to mention especially members of the teaching faculty, as they are the unknown soldiers in the drive towards development and they are the minds of society and its conscience. They are the candles that light up minds and hearts with forgiveness.”
Mohammed bin Abdulaziz al Saleh, secretary general for the higher education committee, said the visits by King Abdullah to the United States, China, Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan, resulted in several agreements being signed on scientific, economic, and commercial fields to increase bilateral relations. This has led to a number of benefits, including the program to send delegations to these countries, so that Saudis can benefit from the knowledge of these countries, their universities and faculties. He ordered the Ministry of Higher Education to implement a program to send missions abroad, the biggest government program of its kind in Saudi Arabia. It includes scientific specialization and other specializations that are needed in the market in Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah also enjoys meeting with ordinary citizens on unannounced visits to public places or popular neighbourhoods. In a visit to Medina, while he was still Crown Prince, people saw him walking around the market, speaking to people and eating the traditional ‘foul’ with bread on a table, proof of his simplicity and comfort. When he was in the eastern region, visiting the al Rashed commercial centre, he walked around the centre eating chips, and shook hands with adults and played with children.
In the month of Ramadan in 2002, he visited a poor neighbourhood and spoke to the its residents about the problems they face. Afterwards, the project of funding for low- income families was launched in addition to a plan to increase housing, which was followed by the establishment of King Abdullah institution for housing, which intends to build 7000 housing units.
King Abdullah is known for being very sensitive and he is full of compassion and kindness as evident when he shed tears when he met children of martyrs in al Qassim.
King Abdullah enjoys reading and gaining knowledge, perhaps the best proof of this is his saying, “Reading at night does not mean you do not need to read during the day. Those who do not follow contemporary science will find themselves isolated.” He also takes great pleasure in horse riding and enjoys visiting the desert whenever he has the time to do so. When he was afraid this sport would vanish, he founded a riding club in Riyadh and encouraged others to preserve this original sport, which co-existed with the Islamic Ummah across the globe.