King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud: A Great Reformer

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

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Late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, was a great reformer. He was a revered leader. He was so proud of the Kingdom’s journey towards greater socio-economic prosperity, tolerance and stability. He was a brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace.

He invested billions of dollars into modernization of its education system, opened up the macro-economy, ushered the country into WTO, curbed the authority of the religious police and initiated global interfaith harmony drive, cracked down on extremism and terrorism.

In whole human history there are people who walk on this Earth without even causing a ripple in the sea of life. On the other hand, there are people who took advantage of the blessings life has given them to create a tsunami in the sea of life. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is a person who has influenced and inspired so many persons.

He stood against terrorism and many crises made so many sincere efforts to bring about global peace and harmony. He was remained a force of moderation. He contested Al Qaeda’s militant interpretations of the faith as justifying, even compelling, terrorist acts. He ordered that textbooks be purged of their most extreme language and sent 900 imams to re-education sessions. He had hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded.

He continued to call on his fellow Muslims to exercise religious tolerance and to reach out to non-Muslims. He was indeed man of peace. He unified the GCC primarily in the defense realm.

He introduced many reforms in Saudi Arabia which revolutionized its health, education, housing and economy. During his rule Saudi Arabia achieved remarkable high rates of GDPs, FDIs and social development. Now, Saudi Arabia is the largest economy of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It is the member of G-20 too. Moreover, Saudi Arabia maintained his position as the world’s largest exporter of oil. During to his rigorous reforms in financial and banking sectors, he stabilized the national, regional and global economy.

He initiated many reforms and was instrumental in correcting the status of women within Saudi society and abroad. He showed great determination to empower women and end any attempt to undermine their role in the name of Islam. He took a firm stand against people who were resistant to change and against the empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia.

In August 2010 King Abdullah decreed that only officially approved religious scholars would be allowed to issue fatwas, putting a stop to fatwas that discriminated against women and did not represent the true spirit of Islam. He received accomplished women in his court, encouraging them to excel and contribute.

The most significant step towards modernizing Saudi Arabia was the decision to allow women to run and vote in municipal elections and become members of the Shoura Council. On Sept. 26, 2011, the king provided the opportunity for women to participate in public life. It was a positive development that finally ended an era of discrimination against women.

Investing in education for women has been a priority in King Abdullah’s educational reforms. Women today represent almost 60 per cent of university graduates. Vocational institutes for women have been introduced and private colleges and universities for women have spread throughout major cities in the Kingdom facilitating the integration of more qualified women into the workforce. Their contributions today reflect their capabilities in new fields of specializations, allowing them to compete with men as bankers, financiers, IT specialists and consultants. Today they are recognized as CEOs in large companies and are reputable board members and consultants in many organizations. Women with the royal support of King Abdullah were able to influence management policies and with their professional status they succeeded in enhancing the role of the private sector and shaping the Saudi economy.

King Abdullah took major steps to enforce regulations that support the role of women in society. Laws were amended and novel national gender policies were applied with new established institutions to implement them. In 2006 he initiated an official ID card for women, which was met with an uproar by the religious scholars because it would include the woman’s photo. Accordingly many women resisted the ID card until it was required for all government and business transactions.

He ordered the country’s first elections for municipal councils in 2005, and 2009 in which women would vote. He introduced many strategic steps in the field of education and his greatest legacy, however, may prove to be a scholarship program that sent tens of thousands of young Saudi men and women abroad to study at Western universities and colleges. He encouraged the working of men and women in the government, industry and academia.
He was one pioneer of global tolerance and interfaith dialogue between the civilizations. It succeeded to lessen confusions and conflicts in the world of power politics. Abdullah sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative, which attempted to solve the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Abdullah was the first Saudi King to travel to China. It kicked off Saudi Arabia’s relationship with China with a series of major agreements. He adopted a “look east” trade policy with the goal of having over half of all Saudi oil exports bound for Asia. Over the years under Abdullah’s reign, Saudi Arabia began to develop some faith in China’s ability to contribute constructively in helping the Middle East resolve its perennial international disputes. In 2008, following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, Saudi Arabia was the largest aid donor for China. In 2009, China took over from the United States as the top buyer of Saudi oil.

The demise of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (May God bless his soul) is a loss not only for Saudi Arabia, but also for all Arab and Muslim countries and their people, and for the entire humanity. The late king was a wise leader who dedicated his life toward serving his people, defending Arab and Muslim issues and advocating for peace, understanding and dialog between cultures, civilizations, religions and sects. Therefore, his memory will remain immortal in the entire human history, for the rich legacy of heritage, wisdom, courage and vision he left.

Late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud played a significant role in ending differences between Arab countries in many crises and that his strong and courageous decisions played a crucial role in addressing creative assault. He made sincere calls for Arabs to embrace unity and end differences so that they address the common challenges they face. This remains a beacon illuminating the path to joint Arab action that he deeply believed in and worked for, be it through the GCC, the Arab League or via bilateral relations.

New King Salman bin Abdulaziz has pledged to continue Saudi Arabia’s oil production and pricing policies. He has also confirmed Oil Minister Al Naimi in his post. These decisions caused Brent crude to slip in London after it rose 2.6 per cent on King Abdullah’s death.

Saudi Arabia’s economic growth rate and industrial diversification improved due to King Abdullah’s reforms and the kingdom has accumulated $780 billion in foreign assets while the public debt/GDP is only three per cent. Saudi Arabia is thus able to survive a protracted period of low oil prices, unlike high-cost producers with leveraged sovereign balance sheets such as Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Algeria and Nigeria.

Saudi Arabia also diversified its oil export markets in the Far East after a succession of state visits by King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman to Beijing, New Delhi, etc.

King Abdullah started a $138 billion social welfare programme and financed tens of thousands of scholarships for Saudi students to study abroad at state expense. King Abdullah was also responsible for promoting a new generation of Saudi technocrats to positions of executive influence in key state economic institutions such as Saudi Aramco, Sama, Petromin, Sabic, Sagia, banks, finance and commerce ministries. He also led Saudi Arabia into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Saudi Arabia’s six economic cities, a $12 billion science and Technology University in the kingdom, a solar energy initiative, and construction of 500,000 units of low-income housing and salary hikes for lower level government employees are all legacies of the late Saudi king. King Abdullah also awarded oil and gas exploration concessions to Russian, Indian, French and Chinese energy companies.

He was a great humanitarian advocate. In most recent times, Saudi Arabia pledged at least a $20 billion GCC aid package for Egypt. Saudi Arabia is a lead member of the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States. Saudi Arabia humanitarian drive turned tears into smiles of millions of hopeless and helpless struggling people around the globe. Pakistan has been one the main recipient of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian aid and economic assistance.

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The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, termed the late Saudi King Abdullah as a great friend of Pakistan. The COAS hailed the services of the late Saudi king in a condolence note after visiting the Saudi Embassy here. He also wrote that the whole Pakistani nation was sad over his death. General Raheel recorded his impressions in the condolence book at the embassy. He termed the death of King Abdullah as a great loss. He said Shah Abdullah was the best friend of Pakistan.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud paid special attention and introduced the new concept of qualitative life in the country. Socio-economic prosperity, better education, housing and health remained among the top priority during his rule. He was simple and straightforward. King Abdul Aziz was not an indulgent father to his dozens of sons. He was quoted as saying, “I train my own children to walk barefoot, to rise two hours before dawn, to eat but little, to ride horses bareback.” May the departed soul rest in heavens

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