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End of an era: King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

by John Brian Shannon | January 28, 2015

The world in which the young Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was raised was about as far removed from today’s world of 30-second sound bites and instant gratification as one can imagine.

The former King of Saudi Arabia, who passed away on January 23, 2015 at the age of 90 years, was a witness to profound changes during his life.

A novelty in 1925 was the telephone, a communications device that only the wealthy and the privileged could enjoy.

The telephone, a novelty in 1925 that only the privileged could enjoy.

The year of Abdullah’s birth (1925) was a time before passenger airliners and before the widespread use of instant communication technology such as telephones and television.

In 1925 the Empire State Building wasn’t yet an architect’s dream, and the outrageous act of driving from New York to LA was considered a crazy stunt for people with too much time on their hands, trying to get their picture in the local newspaper.

The world was recovering from World War I which wasn’t called by that moniker back then. It was referred to as The Great War and spoken of in sombre tones, so fresh it was in people’s minds.

The stock market crash of 1929 hadn’t yet occurred, nor the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, scheduled passenger aircraft, the Cold War, the creation of NASA (let alone landing on the Moon), nor did the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exist — a country which was founded and adopted its constitution on September 23, 1932 when Abdullah was a boy of 7 years of age.

At the time of Abdullah’s birth, the state of Israel hadn’t yet been created and wouldn’t be for 23 years. The only people in the Levant were Bedouin tribes who had freely roamed Palestine for hundreds of years.

Some of those places are now countries with names like Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Syria.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Commander of Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The Arab-Israeli Six-Day War occurred when Abdullah was 42 years old and the Commander of the Saudi National Guard.

Perhaps seeing the futility of war explains Abdullah’s genuine attempt to forge a fair and legitimate peace accord with Israel. As Crown Prince, Abdullah proposed a reasonable peace accord (to Arial Sharon, then Prime Minister of Israel) known as the Arab Peace Initiative.

In March 2002 Abdullah (in his capacity as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia) presented the Arab League with his comprehensive proposal to end the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Crown Prince Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative was unanimously endorsed by the Arab League

A brief synopsis of the Arab Peace Initiative follows:

(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon;

(b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.

(c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return the Arab states will do the following:

(a) Consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region;

(b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace

Making his case to the Arab League in March of 2002, (then Crown Prince) Abdullah concluded his speech by saying;

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in an undated photo.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

In spite of all that has happened and what still may happen, the primary issue in the heart and mind of every person in our Arab Islamic nation is the restoration of legitimate rights in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon….

We believe in taking up arms in self-defence and to deter aggression. But we also believe in peace when it is based on justice and equity, and when it brings an end to conflict.

Only within the context of true peace can normal relations flourish between the people of the region and allow the region to pursue development rather than war.

In light of the above, and with your backing and that of the Almighty, I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations security council based on two basic issues:

…normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories,

…recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital, and the return of refugees. — excerpt from a 2002 speech to the Arab League, by Abdullah who was at the time, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Retrieved from Wikipedia)

King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

King Abdullah meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to discuss improving relations between Islam and Catholicism.

King Abdullah meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to discuss improved relations between Islam and Catholicism.

Another one of Abdullah’s major initiatives was the creation of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre (King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue) in Vienna, Austria.

Every religion is represented at the Centre and the Vatican has Founding Observer status with calls by many for the Vatican to assume full membership in KAICIID.

The opening ceremony was attended by Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and hundreds of religious leaders.

Prince Saud said he hoped the center would “bring peace and understanding between the various religions. Religion has been the basis for many conflicts.”

The center, launched by Saudi Arabia as an international organization with multifaith oversight, aims to help religions contribute to solving problems such as conflicts, prejudice and health crises rather than be misused to worsen them.

“The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution,” said Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, representing Judaism on the nine-seat board of directors. — Arab News

King Abdullah spent billions on new universities

Another of Abdullah’s major successes relate to his strong belief in higher and accessible education for Saudi citizens.

For students who travel abroad to study, each receives a stipend from the Saudi government of $1600/mo. to insure that Saudi students would never find themselves in a position (via a lack of personal finances) to place a burden on any foreign university or nation.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Abdullah created the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) which is a showpiece university with links and academic exchanges to the world’s leading universities and itself is a stunning architectural accomplishment.

This was accomplished in spite of certain sects that display a very anti-technology bias, who live in the Kingdom in large numbers.

Click here to visit the KAUST photogallery.

King Abdullah creates the Muslim world’s first all-female university

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Image courtesy of pnu project com

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Image courtesy of pnuproject.com

And in an Islamic-world first, Abdullah created the only all-female university in the world; Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU).

All on-site administration staff are women and all programmes are tailored to meet the needs of female students.

Not only is  a stunning, multi-billion dollar site, it is completely self-contained with it’s own above-ground transit system, police/security, babysitting, Hospital, and other services for women — and it is powered completely by renewable energy.

Click here to view a stunning interactive overview of the campus.

King Abdullah’s Social Reforms

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Abdullah’s domestic policy could best be described as ‘brave, but steady reform’ within the extremely conservative nation.

We must always remember that the same people who chant ‘Death to America’ also chanted ‘Death to Abdullah’ when he moved to allow municipal elections (to be held later this year) and to allow women to drive cars (still a work in progress).

The rulers of Saudi Arabia want women to be able to drive cars, but nobody wants to die in an anti-women-driver terrorist attack. And who could blame them; Would you want to die in a terrorist attack, even for that noble cause?

Even Saudi women aren’t willing to die to gain that right. And certainly not Western women, who rail against this sexist construct at least ten-times-louder-and-more-often than their Saudi counterparts.

Here is a secret fact known only to those who’ve visited the Kingdom: Many women (especially teens with their father’s permission and borrowed ID) dress as men and drive around town (but obviously, not to the lingerie store) to run their errands.

The majority of people try not to notice the thin disguise and understand these women are merely trying to protect themselves from attack by a deranged, extremist male person.

The problem of course, is that they are uninsured drivers. And when accidents happen (and they do) it can become a comical event, with the father breathlessly showing up to explain to police how it was that he crashed the car — but had to leave the crash scene for a time.

(The old: “Officer, my father had to jog home to take his heart medications because of the scare of the car crash. I’m on my cellphone giving him directions on how to find his way here.”)

Some police go along with the charade and wait for the father (or brother) to show up and name the father (or brother) as the driver involved in the crash — but other times the police arrest everyone and charge them with lying to police. And entire families have had their insurance policy cancelled.

A story to laugh about with your grandkids if you get a ‘good cop’ — or an event which traumatizes an entire family if the Haia police catch you.

The Haia are the ‘morality police’ who are in charge of keeping ‘decency’ in the society and sometimes the Haia police will charge traffic police officers with ‘undermining society’ for knowingly going along with such charades. (Unfortunately, those helpful officers often get fired in such cases)

Probably just one more reason why Abdullah cracked down on extremists in his country during his time as reigning monarch. The single most successful nation in the world (as judged by numbers of terrorists captured, convicted and sentenced) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia often sentences terrorists to lifetime imprisonment for people who plan terrorist acts — or beheading for those who actually commit terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia.

Hey, if you don’t want to do the time, or put your neck on the line, don’t do the terrorist crime. Pretty simple.

Saudi Arabian Relations with the United States

President Barack Obama King Abdullah

President Barack Obama and King Abdullah

Abdullah, while a strong defender of Islam and of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also saw the wisdom of continued businesslike relations with the United States.

At home, Abdullah was forced to defend his reforms — even as some in the West attacked him for moving too slowly.

When extremists from both sides of the political spectrum are attacking you with equal fervor, you know you’re doing it right!

U.S. President Barack Obama saluted the late king’s commitment to close U.S.-Saudi ties.

“As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” Obama said in a statement. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Through very challenging times and in only 10 years — Abdullah of Saudi Arabia moved his country ahead by 25 years. By any standard, Abdullah was a friend to his people, to his own religion and other religions, and to this world.

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