The speech acknowledged challenges posed by regional unrest and falling oil prices.
Saudi crown prince gives speech on behalf of King Abdullah
ABU DHABI // With King Abdullah in hospital, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince delivered the monarch’s traditional address to the Shura Council on Tuesday, warning that the country faced unprecedented challenges.
With conflicts raging in neighbouring Iraq and Yemen and plummeting oil prices casting a shadow over domestic policies, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud sought to reassure Saudis that the government was aware of the critical position the country finds itself in.
“Today, as you know, your country is facing unprecedented regional challenges that resulted from the severe crises that swept through neighbouring or nearby countries and that pushed them to the quagmire of civil war and sectarian conflict,” Prince Salman told the Shura Council, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
“That should make us cautious, and I would like to assure you that your leadership is aware of these challenges and their consequences.”
Saudi Arabia’s 150-member Shura Council is an advisory committee empowered to propose laws that are sent to the king for approval. The king also appoints all the council’s members. Thirty women were appointed for the first time in 2013, with King Abdullah also decreeing that women must hold a fifth of the council’s seats.
Reading out the short speech, Prince Salman highlighted the composition of the council, saying that it “embodies the unity of the country, as its work embodies participation in decision-making process”.
The speech comes a day after a Saudi brigadier general and two other soldiers were killed in an attack along the border with Iraq. Four militants came over the border armed with guns, hand grenades and explosive belts. At least three other soldiers were wounded before the militants were killed.
While no group has claimed the attack so far, suspicion has fallen on militants from ISIL, who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria. The group has said it aims to attack Saudi Arabia.
In November, a Danish citizen was wounded in a Riyadh shooting that was later claimed by ISIL.
“Your country exists in an area that is going through several crises that bred great challenges,” Prince Salman said.
He also addressed the issue of falling oil prices. Over the past few months Brent crude has fallen about 50 per cent, hitting US$51.23 a barrel on Tuesday, a five-and-a-half year low.
Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have refused to cut back on production to raise prices because they are concerned about losing their share of the global energy market amid a supply glut.
“The Kingdom will continue to defend its economic interests and its international status through a national perspective that takes into account its citizens’ prosperity, sustainable development and the interests of present and future generations,” Prince Salman said.
The main reason for the “developments” in the oil market was the slow growth of the global economy, he said.
Despite concerns over oil prices, last month Saudi Arabia released an annual budget that included an increase in spending, a signal that Riyadh believes its large foreign currency reserves can make up for any shortfall in revenue until the global economy rebounds.
King Abdullah traditionally gives the annual speech. However, the 90-year-old ruler was taken to hospital on December 31 after experiencing shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and temporarily required a breathing tube to be inserted.
The head of the Shura Council, Abdullah Al Al Sheikh, said in a televised statement on Tuesday that a medical procedure carried out on King Abdullah was successful.
Crown Prince Salman also gave assurances about King Abdullah’s health during a cabinet meeting on Monday.
While Prince Salman, 79, is next in line to the Saudi throne, last year King Abdullah appointed Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 69, as deputy crown prince, part of an effort to ease questions over sucession.
* with additional reporting by Bloomberg News