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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies

His half-brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was immediately appointed to the throne and Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud becomes the new crown prince.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died in the early hours of January 23. Brendan Smialowski / AFP Photo
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died in the early hours of January 23. Brendan Smialowski / AFP Photo

ABU DHABI // Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died in the early hours of Friday, according to the royal court.

His half-brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was immediately appointed to the throne.

The UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed said King Abdullah’s life was dedicated to the Saudi people.

“We mourn the death of one of the most notable leaders of the Arab Nation and Muslim Nation who generously gave a lot to his people and his nation and sincerely defended the causes of the Arab Nation and the Muslim Nation,” Sheikh Khalifa said in a statement released by state-news agency WAM.

Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince is Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the youngest son of King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, who founded the modern Saudi state in 1932.

King Abdullah was born in 1924 and ascended to the throne in 2005. Before that he was the country’s de facto ruler for a number of years because his predecessor, King Fahd, was incapacitated by a stroke.

He was widely considered a reformer in the kingdom. He advanced the rights of women, improved the economy, and played a key role in foreign affairs, including on sensitive issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the war in Syria.

He steered his country through the turmoil of the Arab Spring with a mixture of assertive foreign policy, support for key allies and introducing some reforms at home.

The transition comes at a critical moment when Saudi Arabia is playing a leading role in the fight against the extremist group ISIL, which has taken over large areas of Syria and Iraq and has claimed an attack in the kingdom.

On the country’s southern border, Yemen is in turmoil, with Shiite Zaydi rebels allied to Iran in control of Sanaa. The group’s expansion into Sunni areas of Yemen threatens sectarian war and is likely to boost recruiting for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The new king will take the throne with oil prices at their lowest levels since early 2009 after Riyadh resisted calls for Opec production cuts.

Following the announcement of King Abdullah’s death prices rose over concerns about shifts in Saudi policy.

Another issue is Saudi Arabia’s relationship with its key ally the United States. The countries have disagreed over Washington’s efforts to improve relations with Iran as world powers work towards a deal on Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.

In Syria, Riyadh wanted the US to take a tougher stance against President Bashar Al Assad and commit greater support to rebels fighting against him.

Fahad Nazer, an analyst at the US-based consultancy JTG and a former political analyst at the Saudi embassy in Washington, said the speed with which King Salman ascended to the throne should reassure both Saudi citizens and the wider international community.

“This seemingly seamless transition should also calm international oil markets, which could have experienced some temporary jitters had there been some uncertainty about who would succeed Abdullah as king,” he said.

“I expect continuity in most, if not all, major foreign policy issues, certainly in the short term. Down the road, King Salman will likely try to put his stamp on the throne one way or another but it remains to be seen whether that would be in the form of a major reassessment of relations with the US. I think it is unlikely.”

The UAE will observe three-days of mourning for King Abdullah, beginning on Friday. The national flag will also be flown at half-mast at government ministries and overseas embassies.

jvela@thenational.ae