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Saudi King Abdullah Is Dead at 90, Should We Care?

King Abdullah with a friend

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who ascended to the throne on 1 August 2005, at age 80, after his half-brother, King Fahd, had died, is now gone, too. And the world is busy trying to figure out just how bad this is for things as we know them.

King Abdullah’s successor is his 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman. Salman was Abdullah’s crown prince and has functioned as the de facto king for a while now, in place of his sick half brother. The 69 year-old Prince Muqrin, former head of intelligence and half-brother to both Salman and Abdullah, will now serve as the new crown prince. Which means that the death of Abdullah will likely not be noticed at all in terms of policy, because the current rulers have been ruling there for some time.

Saudi Arabia owns an estimated 16% of the world’s known oil reserves. As such, it is the leader of OPEC and can influence energy prices—to a lesser degree than it used to, but it still can. So, we expect the kingdom to lead the way in dealing with the fact that the price of oil today is less than half of what their expectations have been. It could complicate things.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement saying “This is a sad day. The United States has lost a friend, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and the world has lost a revered leader. King Abdullah was a man of wisdom and vision.”

Then Kerry reminisced: “I loved my visits with him as a Senator and as Secretary. Even as he battled age and illness, he held on to his sense of determination. His stories of his father and of his family were remarkable. He was so proud of the Kingdom’s journey, a brave partner in fighting violent extremism who proved just as important as a proponent of peace.”

OK, enough of that nonsense. The NY Times offered more concrete information about the dead king: “…his government spent $130 billion to build 500, 000 units of low-income housing, to bolster the salaries of government employees and to ensure the loyalty of religious organizations.”

Of course, they had to give these people new homes, seeing as in neighboring Arab countries these people were busy toppling their tyrants. But, just to make sure, the Saudi grand mufti, their chief rabbi, if you will, proclaimed that Islam forbade street protests. And many who dared pick up signs and take to the streets found themselves behind bars.

But then there was this: as soon as Abdullah became king, he implemented a government scholarship program to send young Saudi men and women to study abroad. More than 70, 000 young Saudis have so far studied abroad in more than 25 countries, including more than 22, 000 in the U.S.

And the kingdom offers public health facilities, with an advanced epidemic screening network to screen the 3 million or so Hajj pilgrims that visit every year.

So, no doubt, a reformer. But now, with oil prices where they are, we expect the new/same ruler of Saudi Arabia to rely less on splurging billions on the poor and the needy, and more on law enforcement.

And there, thank Allah, the Saudis could teach everyone a lesson or two. According to Wikipedia, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees is common, widespread and generally committed with impunity in the reformed Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom practices judicial corporal punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and flogging for “sexual deviance” and drunkenness. Women who were raped but can’t prove it are sentenced to lashes for adultery. And, of course, there’s those public executions by beheading, between 100 and 200 each year. Bring popcorn.

But the old king had a Facebook page! Can’t take that away from him.

Last year, Saudi Arabia became the lead Arab nation in the U.S.-led coalition aiming to eliminate the ISIS bunch from Iraq and Syria. At the same time, the Saudis are also funding the Suni rebels against President Assad’s government inside Syria, which, on occasion, are kind of ISIS. Go figure.

Finally, Secretary Kerry’s post-mortem statement, touched on the Jews in King Abdullah’s life:

“The courageous Arab Peace Initiative that he sponsored remains a critical document for the goal we shared of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security.”

Yes, thank you so much for that one, dear departed king. Basically, he suggested that if Israel give up everything it gained since 1967, and bring in the Arab refugees whose great grandparents fled back in 1948, the Arabs will let Israel live. Yes, Kerry loved it.

So, to sum up — the late king hasn’t been running things in Saudi Arabia for some time now, so nothing is going to change in terms of his country’s policies tomorrow.

Which could also mean that everything could change, and rather quickly, too.

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