Al Bawaba FYI: Saudi's late King Abdullah

Published January 24th, 2015 - 20:30 GMT

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(Editor's Note: Al Bawaba FYI is a new series, where we give you the fast-take on the news of the moment. Enjoy!)

By now, you know the story. Early on January 23, 90-year-old King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away in Riyadh after a brief battle with pneumonia, closing a decade-long rule in the KSA. Ushered into his place on the throne is his half-brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. No spring chicken himself, the 79-year-old is rumored to be suffering from dementia. Continue reading below »

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His Childhood:  Abdullah was born in 1924 in Riyadh, the fifth (or tenth!) son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, better known as Ibn Saud. His mother was from the Al Rashid dynasty, Bedouin rivals of the Al Saud. As a boy, he suffered from a speech impediment.
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Image 1 of 12:  1 / 12His Childhood: Abdullah was born in 1924 in Riyadh, the fifth (or tenth!) son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, better known as Ibn Saud. His mother was from the Al Rashid dynasty, Bedouin rivals of the Al Saud. As a boy, he suffered from a speech impediment.

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His marriages: Reports vary, but Abdullah married at least 24 times, keeping no more than 4 wives at once as per Islamic law. He fathered a minimum of 35 children with almost all of his sons now holding powerful government positions.  His youngest son, Prince Badr, was born in 2003, when King Abdullah was 79 years old.
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Image 2 of 12:  2 / 12His marriages: Reports vary, but Abdullah married at least 24 times, keeping no more than 4 wives at once as per Islamic law. He fathered a minimum of 35 children with almost all of his sons now holding powerful government positions. His youngest son, Prince Badr, was born in 2003, when King Abdullah was 79 years old.

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His education, or lack thereof: Specifics about his education are sketchy. The official Saudi Information Directory says he had 'a formal religious education,' supplementing schooling with extensive reading. He also spent years living with the desert learning traditional Arab values from the Bedouin. He was a falconer and expert equestrian.
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Image 3 of 12:  3 / 12His education, or lack thereof: Specifics about his education are sketchy. The official Saudi Information Directory says he had "a formal religious education," supplementing schooling with extensive reading. He also spent years living with the desert learning traditional Arab values from the Bedouin. He was a falconer and expert equestrian.

Enlarge
A ruthless stance against extremism: He vowed to fight terrorist ideologies within the kingdom using education to attack the extremist roots, and judicial reforms to weaken the influence of the most reactionary elements of the religious establishment. His special forces conducted frequent raids, arrests, torture and public beheadings.
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Image 4 of 12:  4 / 12A ruthless stance against extremism: He vowed to fight terrorist ideologies within the kingdom using education to attack the extremist roots, and judicial reforms to weaken the influence of the most reactionary elements of the religious establishment. His special forces conducted frequent raids, arrests, torture and public beheadings.

Enlarge
On Palestine: A strong Arab nationalist, he also reached into international affairs, most critically in his 2002 Middle East Peace Plan which called for a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The initiative was adopted at the Arab League's Beirut summit in March 2002 but was never implemented.
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Image 5 of 12:  5 / 12On Palestine: A strong Arab nationalist, he also reached into international affairs, most critically in his 2002 Middle East Peace Plan which called for a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The initiative was adopted at the Arab League's Beirut summit in March 2002 but was never implemented.

Enlarge
On education: Reform marked his last 5 years. He began a program to underwrite Saudis studying abroad - over 70,000 students now attend schools in 25 countries. He revamped the Ministry of Education, created a department focused on female students, and built the controversially co-ed King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).
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Image 6 of 12:  6 / 12On education: Reform marked his last 5 years. He began a program to underwrite Saudis studying abroad - over 70,000 students now attend schools in 25 countries. He revamped the Ministry of Education, created a department focused on female students, and built the controversially co-ed King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).

Enlarge
This king has had his share of detractors. Saudis live under strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, mandating hand amputation to punish theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness (or blogging!). Public beheading is common for murder, rape, and witchcraft, and his policies towards the women’s rights leave a lot to be desired.
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Image 7 of 12:  7 / 12This king has had his share of detractors. Saudis live under strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, mandating hand amputation to punish theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness (or blogging!). Public beheading is common for murder, rape, and witchcraft, and his policies towards the women’s rights leave a lot to be desired.

Enlarge
On Iran: Wikileaks cables released in April 2008 showed Abdullah had told the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and General David Petraeus to 'cut off the head of the snake', referring to Iran. Abdullah believed Iran was setting up Hezbollah-like organizations in Africa. A cable quoted him saying,'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters'.
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Image 8 of 12:  8 / 12On Iran: Wikileaks cables released in April 2008 showed Abdullah had told the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and General David Petraeus to "cut off the head of the snake", referring to Iran. Abdullah believed Iran was setting up Hezbollah-like organizations in Africa. A cable quoted him saying,"You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters".

Enlarge
 On Guantanamo: In 2010, Wikileaks revealed cables with Abdullah’s idea to plant microchips into detainees released from Guantanamo Bay,-allowing them to be tracked in a similar way to his race horses. The same cables also revealed that Abdullah privately urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.
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Image 9 of 12:  9 / 12 On Guantanamo: In 2010, Wikileaks revealed cables with Abdullah’s idea to plant microchips into detainees released from Guantanamo Bay,-allowing them to be tracked in a similar way to his race horses. The same cables also revealed that Abdullah privately urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.

Enlarge
His marriage to Princess Alanoud Al Fayez (when she was 15) begat four daughters. After their divorce, the princesses have been under house arrest in Saudi for 13 years. Their mother protests weekly at London’s Saudi embassy, and when the girls released a video last March pleading for help they were denied food and clean water for 25 days.
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Image 10 of 12:  10 / 12His marriage to Princess Alanoud Al Fayez (when she was 15) begat four daughters. After their divorce, the princesses have been under house arrest in Saudi for 13 years. Their mother protests weekly at London’s Saudi embassy, and when the girls released a video last March pleading for help they were denied food and clean water for 25 days.

Enlarge
 Last March, Abdullah sent 1,200 Saudi troops into Bahrain to quell peaceful public demonstrations by civilians like doctors and bloggers. Said to protect key industrial facilities, it morphed into a brutal crackdown on largely unarmed protesters. The invasion claimed civilian lives and strained relations with the US.
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Image 11 of 12:  11 / 12 Last March, Abdullah sent 1,200 Saudi troops into Bahrain to quell peaceful public demonstrations by civilians like doctors and bloggers. Said to protect key industrial facilities, it morphed into a brutal crackdown on largely unarmed protesters. The invasion claimed civilian lives and strained relations with the US.

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With a personal fortune of $19BIL US ,he was among the world’s top 5 richest royals and the third wealthiest head of state on the planet. In 2014, Forbes ranked King Abdullah as the 11th most powerful person in the world.
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Image 12 of 12:  12 / 12With a personal fortune of $19BIL US ,he was among the world’s top 5 richest royals and the third wealthiest head of state on the planet. In 2014, Forbes ranked King Abdullah as the 11th most powerful person in the world.

Enlarge

1

His Childhood:  Abdullah was born in 1924 in Riyadh, the fifth (or tenth!) son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, better known as Ibn Saud. His mother was from the Al Rashid dynasty, Bedouin rivals of the Al Saud. As a boy, he suffered from a speech impediment.

Image 1 of 12His Childhood: Abdullah was born in 1924 in Riyadh, the fifth (or tenth!) son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud, better known as Ibn Saud. His mother was from the Al Rashid dynasty, Bedouin rivals of the Al Saud. As a boy, he suffered from a speech impediment.

2

His marriages: Reports vary, but Abdullah married at least 24 times, keeping no more than 4 wives at once as per Islamic law. He fathered a minimum of 35 children with almost all of his sons now holding powerful government positions.  His youngest son, Prince Badr, was born in 2003, when King Abdullah was 79 years old.

Image 2 of 12His marriages: Reports vary, but Abdullah married at least 24 times, keeping no more than 4 wives at once as per Islamic law. He fathered a minimum of 35 children with almost all of his sons now holding powerful government positions. His youngest son, Prince Badr, was born in 2003, when King Abdullah was 79 years old.

3

His education, or lack thereof: Specifics about his education are sketchy. The official Saudi Information Directory says he had 'a formal religious education,' supplementing schooling with extensive reading. He also spent years living with the desert learning traditional Arab values from the Bedouin. He was a falconer and expert equestrian.

Image 3 of 12His education, or lack thereof: Specifics about his education are sketchy. The official Saudi Information Directory says he had "a formal religious education," supplementing schooling with extensive reading. He also spent years living with the desert learning traditional Arab values from the Bedouin. He was a falconer and expert equestrian.

4

A ruthless stance against extremism: He vowed to fight terrorist ideologies within the kingdom using education to attack the extremist roots, and judicial reforms to weaken the influence of the most reactionary elements of the religious establishment. His special forces conducted frequent raids, arrests, torture and public beheadings.

Image 4 of 12A ruthless stance against extremism: He vowed to fight terrorist ideologies within the kingdom using education to attack the extremist roots, and judicial reforms to weaken the influence of the most reactionary elements of the religious establishment. His special forces conducted frequent raids, arrests, torture and public beheadings.

5

On Palestine: A strong Arab nationalist, he also reached into international affairs, most critically in his 2002 Middle East Peace Plan which called for a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The initiative was adopted at the Arab League's Beirut summit in March 2002 but was never implemented.

Image 5 of 12On Palestine: A strong Arab nationalist, he also reached into international affairs, most critically in his 2002 Middle East Peace Plan which called for a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The initiative was adopted at the Arab League's Beirut summit in March 2002 but was never implemented.

6

On education: Reform marked his last 5 years. He began a program to underwrite Saudis studying abroad - over 70,000 students now attend schools in 25 countries. He revamped the Ministry of Education, created a department focused on female students, and built the controversially co-ed King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).

Image 6 of 12On education: Reform marked his last 5 years. He began a program to underwrite Saudis studying abroad - over 70,000 students now attend schools in 25 countries. He revamped the Ministry of Education, created a department focused on female students, and built the controversially co-ed King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).

7

This king has had his share of detractors. Saudis live under strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, mandating hand amputation to punish theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness (or blogging!). Public beheading is common for murder, rape, and witchcraft, and his policies towards the women’s rights leave a lot to be desired.

Image 7 of 12This king has had his share of detractors. Saudis live under strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, mandating hand amputation to punish theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness (or blogging!). Public beheading is common for murder, rape, and witchcraft, and his policies towards the women’s rights leave a lot to be desired.

8

On Iran: Wikileaks cables released in April 2008 showed Abdullah had told the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and General David Petraeus to 'cut off the head of the snake', referring to Iran. Abdullah believed Iran was setting up Hezbollah-like organizations in Africa. A cable quoted him saying,'You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters'.

Image 8 of 12On Iran: Wikileaks cables released in April 2008 showed Abdullah had told the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and General David Petraeus to "cut off the head of the snake", referring to Iran. Abdullah believed Iran was setting up Hezbollah-like organizations in Africa. A cable quoted him saying,"You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters".

9

 On Guantanamo: In 2010, Wikileaks revealed cables with Abdullah’s idea to plant microchips into detainees released from Guantanamo Bay,-allowing them to be tracked in a similar way to his race horses. The same cables also revealed that Abdullah privately urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.

Image 9 of 12 On Guantanamo: In 2010, Wikileaks revealed cables with Abdullah’s idea to plant microchips into detainees released from Guantanamo Bay,-allowing them to be tracked in a similar way to his race horses. The same cables also revealed that Abdullah privately urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.

10

His marriage to Princess Alanoud Al Fayez (when she was 15) begat four daughters. After their divorce, the princesses have been under house arrest in Saudi for 13 years. Their mother protests weekly at London’s Saudi embassy, and when the girls released a video last March pleading for help they were denied food and clean water for 25 days.

Image 10 of 12His marriage to Princess Alanoud Al Fayez (when she was 15) begat four daughters. After their divorce, the princesses have been under house arrest in Saudi for 13 years. Their mother protests weekly at London’s Saudi embassy, and when the girls released a video last March pleading for help they were denied food and clean water for 25 days.

11

 Last March, Abdullah sent 1,200 Saudi troops into Bahrain to quell peaceful public demonstrations by civilians like doctors and bloggers. Said to protect key industrial facilities, it morphed into a brutal crackdown on largely unarmed protesters. The invasion claimed civilian lives and strained relations with the US.

Image 11 of 12 Last March, Abdullah sent 1,200 Saudi troops into Bahrain to quell peaceful public demonstrations by civilians like doctors and bloggers. Said to protect key industrial facilities, it morphed into a brutal crackdown on largely unarmed protesters. The invasion claimed civilian lives and strained relations with the US.

12

With a personal fortune of $19BIL US ,he was among the world’s top 5 richest royals and the third wealthiest head of state on the planet. In 2014, Forbes ranked King Abdullah as the 11th most powerful person in the world.

Image 12 of 12With a personal fortune of $19BIL US ,he was among the world’s top 5 richest royals and the third wealthiest head of state on the planet. In 2014, Forbes ranked King Abdullah as the 11th most powerful person in the world.

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Such an appointment is no stranger to Saudi, where the only rulers have been sons the nation’s founder, and an long-living Arab tradition has consistently empowered monarchs who are old enough to have already picked their own (unmarked) tombstones.

So what happens now?

King Abdullah’s death comes at a crucial time for the kingdom.

The country is battling sleeper-cell terrorism at home, and Daesh just outside its borders. Meanwhile, US shale and oil export boom and Russian production has sent oil prices on a downward spiral.

The economic battle may be quiet, but its fiercer than the ideological one: 2014 was recorded as the year were Saudi Arabia spent the most in its history, and 2015 will likely go down with an even bigger deficit.

Swiftly-crowned Salman, who pledged certainty and continuity, wasted no time confirming that  key Saudi figure and controversial oil minister Ali Al-Naimi will remain in place. The action helped quell speculation about an internal palace rift, but despite votes of confidence voiced by Western leaders at Davos, much remains uncertain about the kingdom’s economic and political future.

Here’s the lazy news guide to the King Abdullah saga — the good, bad and ugly.

 

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