Biography of King Abdullah, Ruler of Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah
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Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (August 1, 1924–January 23, 2015) was the king of Saudia Arabia from 2005 to 2015. During his reign, tensions increased between conservative Salafi (Wahhabi) forces and liberal reformers. While the king positioned himself as a relative moderate, he did not promote many substantive reforms; in fact, during Abdullah's tenure, Sauda Arabia was accused of numerous human rights violations.

Fast Facts: King Abdullah

  • Known For: King Abdullah was the king of Saudi Arabia from 2005 to 2015.
  • Also Known As: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
  • Born: August 1, 1924 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Parents: King Abdulaziz and Fahda bint Asi Al Shuraim
  • Died: January 23, 2015 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Spouse(s): 30+
  • Children: 35+

Early Life

Little is known about King Abdullah's childhood. He was born in Riyadh on August 1, 1924, the fifth son of Saudi Arabia's founding king, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud (also known as "Ibn Saud"). Abdullah's mother, Fahda bint Asi Al Shuraim, was Ibn Saud's eighth wife of 12. Abdullah had between 50 and 60 siblings.

At the time of Abdullah's birth, his father Amir Abdulaziz's realm included only the northern and eastern sections of Arabia. The Amir defeated Sharif Hussein of Mecca in 1928 and declared himself king. The royal family was quite poor until about 1940, at which point Saudi oil revenues began to increase.

Education

Details of Abdullah's education are sparse, but the official Saudi Information Directory states that he had "a formal religious education." According to the Directory, Abdullah supplemented his formal schooling with extensive reading. He also spent a long stint living with the desert Bedouin people in order to learn traditional Arab values.

Career

In August 1962, Prince Abdullah was appointed to lead the Saudi Arabian National Guard. The National Guard's duties include providing security for the royal family, preventing coups, and guarding the Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. The force includes a standing army of 125,000 men, plus a tribal militia of 25,000.

In March 1975, Abdullah's half-brother Khalid succeeded to the throne upon the assassination of another half-brother, King Faisal. King Khalid appointed Prince Abdullah second deputy prime minister.

In 1982, the throne passed to King Fahd after Khalid's death and Prince Abdullah was promoted once more, this time to deputy prime minister. In this role, he presided over meetings of the king's cabinet. King Fahd also officially named Abdullah the Crown Prince, meaning he was next in line for the throne.

Regent

In December 1995, King Fahd had a series of strokes that left him more or less incapacitated and unable to fulfill his political duties. For the next nine years, Crown Prince Abdullah acted as regent for his brother, although Fahd and his cronies still wielded considerable influence over public policy.

King of Saudi Arabia

King Fahd died on August 1, 2005, and Crown Prince Abdullah became king, taking power in name as well as in practice.

He inherited a nation torn between fundamentalist Islamists and modernizing reformers. The fundamentalists sometimes used terrorist acts (such as bombing and kidnapping) to express their anger over issues like the stationing of American troops on Saudi soil. The modernizers increasingly used blogs and pressure from international groups to call for increased women's rights, reform of Sharia-based laws, and greater press and religious freedoms.

King Abdullah cracked down on the Islamists but didn't make the significant reforms for which many observers both inside and outside of Saudi Arabia had hoped.

Foreign Policy

King Abdullah was known throughout his career as a staunch Arab nationalist, yet he reached out to other countries as well. In 2002, for example, the king put forth a Middle East Peace Plan. It received renewed attention in 2005, but has languished since then and has yet to be implemented. The plan calls for a return to the pre-1967 borders and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. In return, Israel would control the Western Wall and some of the West Bank, and receive recognition from Arab states.

To placate Saudi Islamists, the king disallowed U.S. Iraq War forces to use bases in Saudi Arabia.

Personal Life

King Abdullah had more than 30 wives and fathered at least 35 children.

According to the Saudi Embassy's Official Biography of the King, he bred Arabian horses and founded the Riyadh Equestrian Club. He also loved to read, and established libraries in Riyadh and Casablanca, Morocco. American ham radio operators also enjoyed chatting on the air with the Saudi king.

At the time of his death, the king had a personal fortune estimated at $18 billion, making him among the top five richest royals in the world.

Death

King Abdullah became ill and was taken to the hospital at the beginning of 2015. He died on January 23 at the age of 90.

Legacy

After King Abdullah's death, his half-brother Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the king of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah's legacy is a controversial one. In 2012, the United Nations awarded him a UNESCO Gold Medal for his efforts to promote "dialogue and peace" in the Middle East. Other groups—including Human Rights Watch—criticized the king for his alleged human rights violations, including the mistreatment of prisoners.

Abdullah was also criticized for his policies on religious freedom. In 2012, for example, the Saudi poet Hamza Kashgari was arrested for making several Twitter posts that allegedly denigrated the Islamic prophet Muhammed; he was imprisoned for nearly two years. Humans rights groups such as Amnesty International were highly critical of Saudi Arabia's handling of the case.

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