King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the sixth King of Saudi Arabia on August 1, 2005, when his half-brother King Fahd died. Abdullah had been Crown Prince and acted as the de-facto regent and ruler after King Fahd was incapacitated by a major stroke in 1996.
According to Forbes, Abdullah is among the world’s most powerful people ranked 8th globally, making him the most powerful Muslim. As of 2013 the kingdom boasts a GDP of over $900 billion making it among the 20 richest countries worldwide. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has reserves of 267bn barrels, thus controlling 18% of the world’s oil.
The kingdom has been categorized as a high-income economy along with high human development. Abdullah is one of 37 sons of King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Born in Riyadh to Ibn Saud’s eighth wife, Fahda, he received his early education in the Royal Court at the Princes’ School from religious authorities and intellectuals.
Abdullah held important political posts throughout most of his adult life. In 1961 he became mayor of Mecca, his first public office. And, in 1962, he was appointed commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, a post still held when he became king. He also served as deputy defense minister and was later in October 1976, groomed for a greater responsibility in Riyadh. He was named crown prince in 1982 when Fahd took the throne.
Abdullah was sent to the US to meet with President Gerald Ford. He again traveled to the US in October 1987, meeting Vice President George H. W. Bush. In September of 1998, Abdullah made a state visit to the US to meet in Washington, D.C. with President Bill Clinton. He returned again in September of 2000 to attend millennium celebrations at the United Nations in New York.
King Abdullah has visited America many times, and there are reports that the Bush family, including President George W. Bush, consider Abdullah to be a great friend — both of America and the Bush family. However, shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the US, as criticism of Saudi Arabia mounted, Abdullah said, “The vicious campaign being waged against the kingdom in the Western media is nothing but the manifestation of a deep-rooted hatred directed against the course of Islam. Commitment to Islam and the homeland is not up for debate.”
On the second anniversary of the September 11 attack on the US, the prince wrote a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, which ended with: “God Almighty, in His wisdom, tests the faithful by allowing such calamities to happen. But He, in His mercy, also provides us with the will and determination, generated by faith, to enable us to transform such tragedies into great achievements, and crises that seem debilitating are transformed into opportunities for the advancement of humanity. I only hope that, with your cooperation and leadership, a new world will emerge out of the rubble of the World Trade Center: a world that is blessed by the virtues of freedom, peace, prosperity and harmony.”
Saudi Arabia was also a major backer of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates withdrew recognition of the Taliban government.
King Abdullah has during his regime maintained close relations with the US and Britain and bought billions of dollars worth of defense equipment from both states. He has also pushed toward more rights for women in the kingdom by giving them the right to vote and to compete in the Olympics.
Furthermore, king Abdullah successfully maintained the status quo during the waves of protest in the kingdom during the Arab Spring. In November 2013, a BBC report claimed that Saudi Arabia could obtain nuclear weapons at will from Pakistan due to a longstanding relationship.
Like many Saudi rulers before him, Abdullah is considered by many in the West to be a relatively moderate ruler. In recent years, this image has been compromised however, as Saudi Arabian schools continue to teach anti-Semitism and Saudi Arabia’s Royal Family funds madrassahs around the world that offer no compromise regarding the West’s support and lack of support of Palestinian people.
The King outlived two of his crown princes. Conservative Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud was named heir to the throne on the death of Sultan bin Abdulaziz in October 2011, but Nayef himself died in June 2012. Abdullah then named the more liberal 76-year-old defense minister, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as crown prince.
According to a 2001 report, Abdullah “has four wives, seven sons, and 15 daughters”. The king has a personal fortune estimated at US$18 billion, making him the third wealthiest head of state in the world. In recent years his health condition has declined significantly and therefore igniting a power struggle over the succession to the throne.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud passed away on 23rd January 2015, with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud succeeding the throne.