The world looked on in awe as the king, slowly but steadily marshaled his nation into a leading player in a highly globalized world
JEDDAH – From the moment he took over in 2005 after the death of King Fahd, the hugely popular King Abdullah was a man on a mission.
The biggest challenge for him was to get the economy back into shape and end the isolation Saudi Arabia had faced in the international world after 9/11. He took drastic measures and bold decisions. He united his people by launching national dialogue.
Saudis from every corner of the Kingdom were brought into the decision-making process. He launched many economic cities. A multitude of international conferences and seminars and meetings indicated a country on the move under an able leadership.
Women regarded him as a benevolent father who cared for them, and understood their problems. He always received them with a smile. He knew the pulse of the Kingdom. When one day, he visited a poor household in Riyadh the whole nation gasped. Here was their king wanting to know the state of a fellow citizen.
The media opened up. King Abdullah in a meeting with editors in chief advised them not to shy away from criticizing those in authority but asked them to do so in a constructive manner, and not indulge in slander.
He announced that women would be able to take part in municipal elections; and brought in highly accomplished women into the Shoura Council. He was a statesman par excellence, widely respected because he spoke nothing but the truth. He helped Saudi Arabia attain considerable international stature and respect in the aftermath of the 9/11 debacle.
Among his massive achievements included the interfaith dialogue, the domestic program to curb extremism, the Arab Peace Initiative, membership of the World Trade Organization, the introduction of human rights organizations, and the construction of the world-renowned King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
His focus on education led to the creation of dozens of universities and colleges and institutes of excellence. A major portion of the budget was earmarked for education and health care. Princess Noura University in Riyadh and KAUST became the prized projects of the king.
The world looked on in awe as the king, slowly but steadily marshaled his nation into a leading player in a highly globalized world. At the inauguration of KAUST, world leaders and academics from across the globe turned up. This university is now described as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of the Middle East and has one of the highest endowments on the planet. It has attracted top brains from the best universities in the world.
Tens of billions of dollars were poured into creating world-class infrastructure. Across the length and breadth of the Kingdom, tracks are being laid down to run trains. Soon Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and Rabigh will be connected. The projects are in advanced stages of completion. Everywhere one goes, there are high-rise cranes on the horizon indicating the massive work under way.
The king always stressed the need for moderation. He was a proponent of change. He was simple and firm. He wanted a solution to the Palestinian problem and that is why he floated the King Abdullah Peace Initiative. He established interfaith dialogue. He wanted the world to understand Saudi Arabia. Foreign journalists were allowed to see for themselves a country in confident transition, and were able to set up their bureaus in Riyadh.
King Abdullah did everything possible to make the journey of pilgrims comfortable. From introducing the Haj Metro to expanding the Jamarat bridge into a multistory complex. The Grand Mosque in Makkah is undergoing the biggest expansion in Muslim history. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah is being similarly expanded.
Every year when thousands of pilgrims land in Saudi Arabia, they raise their hands in prayers for the visionary king. His death is a big loss, not just for the Kingdom but the modern world. He was a sagacious leader and the world is poorer without him.–Courtesty Arab News
Siraj Wahab is a senior editor of Arab News based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia