While the Islamic world morns King FahdUnprecedented Yemeni delegates travel to KSA [Archives:2005/865/Front Page]

August 4 2005

Since the settlement of the boarder issues between Yemen and KSA the relations between the two countries have gone from strength to strength. Currently as the morning of late king Fahd takes place the Yemeni president along with tens of Yemeni authorities and delegates are travelling to participate in the funeral King Fahd of Saudi Arabia taking place in the Saudi capital Riyadh and give their condolences to the royal family. Although rumours reported that King Fahd had died late Wednesday last week the official announcing of his death was on Monday morning1st August, 2005 at the age of 84 after living several years in poor health since his stroke a decade ago. Officially, after a relatively short break at the time, he resumed his many of his duties using a wheelchair and stick.

King Fahd, who ascended the Saudi throne in 1982, was one of seven sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdel-Aziz, and his favourite wife, Hassa. He was the fourth of his siblings to be king. Two of his brothers lost power violently – one was deposed in a coup; the other was assassinated. King Fahd was especially active in international diplomacy. He tried to end the 15-year civil war in Lebanon by bringing the leaders of the warring factions together for talks in the Saudi city of Taif. In 1981, he drew up a peace plan for the Middle East that was adopted at an Arab League summit the following year. That plan was revived at the 2002 Arab League as an offer of lasting peace with Israel in exchange for the return of Palestinian lands. And following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Fahd took the momentous decision to allow US forces to be based in the Kingdom.

King Fahd's rule saw Saudi Arabia ally itself closely with both the United Kingdom and the United States. Domestically, he had to contend both with the impact of falling oil revenues and an increasingly fragmented society. Suadi newspapers have decribed his leaving as a loss for the whole islamic nation while the reactions to King Fahd”s death have been sentimental among older Saudis and emotional among the women. For most, the duration of the king”s reign covered the prime of their lives. To them it is not the end of a life, but the end of an era in their lives.

His chosen successor, his half-brother Abdullah, is the head of the National Guard, the tribal army largely responsible for the kingdom's internal security.

An austere and respected figure, Crown Prince Abdullah is untainted by corruption, while being regarded by many as less enthusiastically pro-American than King Fahd. And among watchers of the opaque world of Saudi statecraft, Crown Prince Abdullah is thought already to have been de facto ruler for much of the past five years and had already taken over much of the responsibility of the kingdom's affairs. The succession had long ago been settled in private by a family counsel of 18 senior princes from the ruling al-Saud family.

But new king, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz faces a number of major challenges that will affect the West.

The most visible of these is al-Qaeda linked terrorism, but others include creating jobs and dealing with the Israel-Palestinian and Iraqi conflicts. Crown Prince Abdullah became effective head of state in the mid-1990s, when ill health forced King Fahd to withdraw from public life.

He has involved himself energetically in domestic and international issues, and as a spokesman for his country he enjoys wide respect at home and abroad.

Prince Abdullah was born in Riyadh in 1923, the son of King Abd-al-Aziz Al Saud and Fahada bint Asi al-Shuraym of the Rashid clan.

He received a traditional Islamic education in Riyadh and grew up steeped in the traditions and customs of the ruling family.

His first public office was as mayor of the holy city of Mecca.

In 1963, he became deputy defence minister and commander of the National Guard – drawn from the most loyal of the tribes in Saudi Arabia and regarded as the kingdom's most reliable armed force.

He has remained commander of the guard ever since. Prince Abdullah was nominated Crown Prince in 1982.

As a senior member of the innermost circle of Saudi princes, Abdullah is one of the most influential men in the kingdom – respected for his honesty and untainted by corruption.

He is also keen to keep a balance between the simple traditions of Saudi life and the need for modernisation and reform.

Crown Prince Abdullah recognises the need for close political and economic ties with the West, but he would like to see this relationship kept in check and balanced by closer links between Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

The crown prince has on several occasions tried to mediate in inter-Arab disputes.

In 1984, he expressed support for the Syrian position in Lebanon and demanded a withdrawal of American marines from the area.

He has also been a strong critic of American support for Israel and the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

In March 2002 he attracted international attention when he suggested that the Arabs would be prepared to normalize relations with Israel if the latter withdrew to the 1967 boundaries.

Crown Prince Abdullah's fears about Saudi Arabia's identification with the West was evident in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Staunchly Western-oriented members of the royal family advocated the immediate stationing of American forces in Saudi Arabia.

But the heir to throne was reluctant for the kingdom to invite the American troops into Saudi Arabia – where the holy Islamic city of Mecca is situated.

Crown Prince Abdullah is an imposing figure who has acquired the charisma of an international statesman without adopting the flamboyance of some of his contemporaries.

He normally talks quietly and speaks with a stutter. But he is not a man to hold his tongue when he feels strongly about an issue.

At an Arab summit in Egypt before the US-led invasion of Iraq television cameras caught him angrily berating the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, for derogatory remarks made by the latter.

Within Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah is the driving force behind the nascent reform movement.

His steps in this direction have been carefully measured, showing that he is sensitive to the wishes of those who oppose change as well as those advocating it.

Few Saudi leaders are better placed, in terms of public respect, to succeed in the difficult task ahead than the Saudi heir to throne.

Consequently the Arab League says an emergency Arab summit scheduled for Wednesday at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh has been postponed, following the death of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd.

An Arab League official, Hisham Youssef, at the Red Sea resort told reporters that the postponement “is for a few days,” and that consultations will soon begin to decide on a new date for the summit.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week called the summit to discuss the situation in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terrorism.