Saudi King Abdullah dead at 90

Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who guided his nation through one of the most turbulent periods in its history, died early Friday morning, according to state TV.  He was 90.

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was named his successor.  Salman immediately named his half-brother, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, crown prince.

At age 79 and reportedly suffering from dementia, Salman is clearly a caretaker.  Muqrin, at age 71, will likely be the last of the 35 children sired by King Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to rule.  But Muqrin's claim to the the throne is shaky, and there may be pushback from some of the hundreds of younger princes of the next generation.

Abdullah was somethng of a throwback:

Abdullah had grown accustomed to the levers of power long before his ascension to the throne in August 2005. After his predecessor, King Fahd, a half brother, had a stroke in November 1995, Abdullah, then the crown prince, ruled in the king’s name.

Yet Abdullah spoke as plainly as the Bedouin tribesmen with whom he had been sent to live in his youth. He refused to be called “your majesty” and discouraged commoners from kissing his hand. He shocked the 7,000 or so Saudi princes and princesses by cutting their allowances. He was described as ascetic, or as ascetic as someone in the habit of renting out entire hotels could be.

Abdullah’s reign was a constant effort to balance desert traditions with the demands of the modern world, making him appear at times to be shifting from one to the other.

When popular movements and insurgencies overthrew or threatened long-established Arab rulers from Tunisia to Yemen in 2011, he reacted swiftly.

On his return from three months of treatment for a herniated disk and a blood clot in New York and Morocco, his government spent $130 billion to build 500,000 units of low-income housing, to bolster the salaries of government employees and to ensure the loyalty of religious organizations.

He also created a Facebook page, where citizens were invited to present their grievances directly to him, although it was not known how many entries actually reached him.

But in at least two telephone calls he castigated President Obama for encouraging democracy in the Middle East, saying it was dangerous. And he showed no tolerance for the sort of dissent unfolding elsewhere.

It's pretty much nonsense to refer to Abdullah as a "reformer" when only tiny, cosmetic changes were initiated during his reign.  The power of the Wahhabi clerics remains a stumbling block to any real reform in the Kingdom.

This is a particularly dangerous time for the Kingdom, as ISIS is active in Iraq on its southern border, and Yemen is rapidly becoming a failed state.  It's no secret that both ISIS and AQ in the Arabian Peninsula have put a bullseye on the back of Saudi royals, believing them to be too corrupt to be guardians of Islam's holiest cities of Mecca and Medina.  They also covet the vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia.  The elevation of Prince Salman at this time is a huge risk, given his failing health and dementia.  And the power struggle that would ensue if Salman can't govern could paralyze the Kingdom at a crucial moment.

Vice President Biden will lead the American delegation to Abdullah's funeral.

Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who guided his nation through one of the most turbulent periods in its history, died early Friday morning, according to state TV.  He was 90.

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was named his successor.  Salman immediately named his half-brother, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, crown prince.

At age 79 and reportedly suffering from dementia, Salman is clearly a caretaker.  Muqrin, at age 71, will likely be the last of the 35 children sired by King Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to rule.  But Muqrin's claim to the the throne is shaky, and there may be pushback from some of the hundreds of younger princes of the next generation.

Abdullah was somethng of a throwback:

Abdullah had grown accustomed to the levers of power long before his ascension to the throne in August 2005. After his predecessor, King Fahd, a half brother, had a stroke in November 1995, Abdullah, then the crown prince, ruled in the king’s name.

Yet Abdullah spoke as plainly as the Bedouin tribesmen with whom he had been sent to live in his youth. He refused to be called “your majesty” and discouraged commoners from kissing his hand. He shocked the 7,000 or so Saudi princes and princesses by cutting their allowances. He was described as ascetic, or as ascetic as someone in the habit of renting out entire hotels could be.

Abdullah’s reign was a constant effort to balance desert traditions with the demands of the modern world, making him appear at times to be shifting from one to the other.

When popular movements and insurgencies overthrew or threatened long-established Arab rulers from Tunisia to Yemen in 2011, he reacted swiftly.

On his return from three months of treatment for a herniated disk and a blood clot in New York and Morocco, his government spent $130 billion to build 500,000 units of low-income housing, to bolster the salaries of government employees and to ensure the loyalty of religious organizations.

He also created a Facebook page, where citizens were invited to present their grievances directly to him, although it was not known how many entries actually reached him.

But in at least two telephone calls he castigated President Obama for encouraging democracy in the Middle East, saying it was dangerous. And he showed no tolerance for the sort of dissent unfolding elsewhere.

It's pretty much nonsense to refer to Abdullah as a "reformer" when only tiny, cosmetic changes were initiated during his reign.  The power of the Wahhabi clerics remains a stumbling block to any real reform in the Kingdom.

This is a particularly dangerous time for the Kingdom, as ISIS is active in Iraq on its southern border, and Yemen is rapidly becoming a failed state.  It's no secret that both ISIS and AQ in the Arabian Peninsula have put a bullseye on the back of Saudi royals, believing them to be too corrupt to be guardians of Islam's holiest cities of Mecca and Medina.  They also covet the vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia.  The elevation of Prince Salman at this time is a huge risk, given his failing health and dementia.  And the power struggle that would ensue if Salman can't govern could paralyze the Kingdom at a crucial moment.

Vice President Biden will lead the American delegation to Abdullah's funeral.