King Abdullah: The First Hundred Days
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The first one hundred days of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia”s reign have further demonstrated the new king”s values and political-economic vision that became eminent throughout the rule of King Fahd, during which the then crown prince, Abdullah, played the right hand man to the late King who died 1 August, 2005.
The new King”s reign began during the heat of the summer months and amidst difficult times within the political arena. His reign began with genuine grief for the dear brother that he had lost as was expressed through images all over international press and news agencies. On the third day of King Abdullah”s reign, he delivered a speech that was heard by millions within and outside of the Kingdom, saying, "My aim is to achieve the truth and justice and to serve every citizen equally. I seek your support, advice, and prayers to manage such a responsibility."
After several days of receiving condolences from world delegations whilst others came to pledge allegiance to the new King, the King announced his pardoning of the Libyans involved in his assassination attempt. The kindness of this act was expressed during the first session of the Minister”s council, eight days into his reign. This was a dignified lesson, that one who can afford to punish instead decided to pardon, as well as proof of the King”s enthusiasm to maintain Arab unity and avoid conflict amidst such a critical stage for the Arab region.
Furthermore, the King also pardoned five Saudi oppositionists, four of whom were charged with "provoking civil conflict and rebellion against the ruler," while the fifth was yet to be charged. The pardoning of Abdullah Al Hamed, Matrouk Al Faleh, Ali Al Demoini, Sa”id Ibn Zu”ayer, and Abdel Rahman Al Lahem has been portrayed as a step towards encouraging the concept of dialogue between various cultural and intellectual trends. One should also mention that King Abdullah was responsible for the introduction of the national dialogue when he sponsored a number of talks that focused on a many issues concerning Saudi society such as women, youth, tolerance and coexistence. This was the biggest step taken towards reform.
During the first days of his reign, King Abdullah embarked on a domestic tour of the kingdom including Mecca, Jeddah, and Medina where he received more condolences and those pledging allegiance. He also met with three of the five activists that he had pardoned earlier. King Abdullah, who is known locally as "Abu Met”ab," was the cause for much celebration and happiness when he announced a 15 percent wage increase for government employees and retired government employees. The announcement also included a one month salary bonus for the government workforce of the fifth level and below of the civil and military sectors. In addition, it was announced that there would be an increase in social benefits, and that 30 billion Saudi Riyals would be designated to the improvement of public services.
The Saudis also commemorated that Saudi national day was declared an official holiday and that the King allowed citizens to celebrate in the streets. On 10 September, the King re-instated the Consultative Authority of Economic Affairs affiliated with the Supreme Economic Council. On 9 October, by royal decree, the King established the Council to Protect Economic Competition, which was headed by the Trade Minister and included representatives from various ministries and government agencies. The step aimed at the protection of Saudi national economic interests.
King Abdullah”s interview with the American TV channel ABC, illustrated his vision and leadership. The king openly expressed his opinions concerning local, regional and international matters. For example, he admitted that there have been a number of disagreements between Saudi Arabia and the United States especially with respect to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.
In the same interview, the king was decisive concerning the sensitive issue of the women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. He told the interviewer, "I strongly believe in women”s rights as my mother, sisters, daughters and wife are all women. I do believe that women will be able to drive cars in Saudi Arabia one day. In fact, at present women can be seen driving in some rural and desert areas of the country; the matter requires patience, and in time, such a wish may come true." The entire interview was based on a single fixed principle that the King reiterated when he told the interviewer, "I value and look after my people in the same way that I do myself. I respect my people and will never compel anything upon them." He also addressed the thorny issue of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia that concerned the western minds, emphasizing, "Non-Muslim westerners in Saudi Arabia can freely practice their religion within their own homes."
Looking at local matters, there have been several changes. On 16 October, King Abdullah inaugurated the National Security Council and appointed Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as its Secretary General at ministerial level. Another development was the dismantling of the Public Authority for Oil and Minerals and merging it with ARAMCO. There was also a change and rearrangement of the governors of each region. For example, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Majid became the governor of Medina. Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz became president of the General Intelligence, while Prince Saud Bin Fahd was relieved from his post as vice-president of that same agency. Other changes are expected to made shortly.
Finally, our King”s generosity was further demonstrated during the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake. The King insisted upon a support campaign to help provide relief to Pakistan. The campaign ended only recently on 2 November.
The first hundred days of King Abdullah”s reign have been promising, as many steps have been taken to improve and develop Saudi Arabia and its residents. Such an optimistic beginning has given Saudis much hope for further improvements under the rule of King Abdullah in addition to the success of Saudi Arabia over the past few decades.