Tuesday, August 02, 2005

King Fahd’s death consolidates Saudi power

Saudi King Abdullah (Wikipedia) Wikipedia

ISN SECURITY WATCH (02/08/05) - The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd on Monday has consolidated power in the desert kingdom in the hands of his half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, in a development some analysts say could lead to quicker reform and decision making.

Since King Fahd suffered a massive stroke in 1995, the Saudi kingdom has been effectively led by Crown Prince Abdullah, 80, and his brothers, some of whom have managed to create their own independent power centers.

While the new pro-US Saudi king is not likely to make any short-term changes that would negatively affect US-Saudi relations, some analysts have expressed concern that his powerful brothers were not quite as pro-US as the king.

The Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, the interior minister, Prince Naif, and the governor of Riyadh are three of the new king’s brothers whom analysts say wield significant power in Saudi Arabia and could threaten family disunity over domestic and foreign policy.

That said, most observers seem to agree that the death of King Fahd and the smooth succession to the throne of Crown Prince Abdullah has led to a greater consolidation of power that should allow for faster decision making.

King Abdullah faces a series of challenges, most notably internal attacks by al-Qaida cells and domestic and international calls for democratic reforms.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy ambassador to the US, Rihad Massoud, told a news conference on Monday that the Saudis would “not stand for an evil cult using the Islamic faith as an excuse for mass violence”.

US President George Bush welcomed the succession to the Saudi throne of Crown Prince Abdullah, calling Abdullah “my friend” and saying that the “US looks forward to continuing the close partnership between our two countries”.

The succession of Abdullah comes at a crucial time for US-Saudi relations, which are once again on the upswing following tensions after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington, and a field in western Pennsylvania were identified as Saudi nationals. Much of the membership of al-Qaida, the group blamed for the attacks, was also Saudi, as was bin Laden.

The Saudi government was accused of not doing enough to crack down on Islamic militancy within the country. It also was accused of financing Islamic religious schools (madrassas), worldwide, which churned out youths who would take up arms to fight alongside their Muslim brothers in Kashmir, Chechnya, and Bosnia.

But some analysts say Abdullah is expected to crack down on terrorism in the kingdom.

Edward Walker Jr., president of the private Middle East Institute, told the Associated Press that Abdullah was “in the forefront of reform and countering terrorism”.

However, Walker told the new s agency that one of Abdullah’s brothers, Interior Minister Prince Naif, “has been saying he doesn’t believe terrorism is a serious problem”.

The price of oil hit a new record of just over US$62 a barrel on Monday, upon news of King Fahd’s death. But Massoud pledged “to continue King Fahd’s legacy of providing the globe with stable and secure energy”.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia does not look likely to see a younger king on its throne anytime soon. The chain of ageing successors is still a fairly long one, with the new king’s brothers also pushing their 80s: Prince Sultan is thought to be around 77 years old and other prominent princes are in their 70s, according to the Financial Times.

(By ISN Staff)

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