King Abdullah’s Reign (2005-2015):
Decade of Development & Reform
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Islamic Cultural Centre, London
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud died on Thursday, 22 January 2015, royal officials have announced. Abdullah, who had ruled since 2005 and was said to be aged about 90, had been suffering from a lung infection.
His 79-year-old brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz, has been confirmed as the new king. King Salman vowed to maintain the same policies as his predecessors. “We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
King Abdullah’s Vision and Leadership
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz became King of Saudi Arabia on 1st August, 2005, following the death of his brother King Fahd. King Abdullah’s reign has been characterized by a number of important reforms and achievements, which have elevated the Kingdom to an advanced rank among the world’s countries.
Since King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s ascension to the throne in 2005, a date which has been followed by a period of remarkable changes sparked by major social, education, health and infrastructure projects across the Kingdom. The Kingdom’s leadership has introduced policies for education development in the Kingdom through the expansion of university education and opening of more universities.
Ten-year rule of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia brought many revolutionary changes in development and reform. It can rightly be described as a decade of development and reform. King Abdullah will be remembered in golden letters in world history, particularly in the history of Saudi Arabia for his reform, achievements and initiatives in the field of national dialogue, independence of judiciary, educational development, expansion of Haramain domestically and interfaith dialogue and Middle East Peace Initiative internationally. He was a bold leader loved both at home by his own people and abroad by friends and allies.
King Abdullah’s Reforms
1) Independence of Judiciary
During the reign of King Abdullah, a number of important and noteworthy reform steps were taken in Saudi Arabia. Since assuming the throne, king Abdullah made a number of key reform steps in the kingdom. One of the most important achievements was the king’s landmark reform of the judicial system and the consequent creation of specialised courts.
2) Allegiance –Baya - Loyalty
King Abdullah also set up “the Allegiance Commission” or Hay’at al-Bay‘ah, which is a codification of the unwritten rules that have governed the selection of Saudi rulers since the passing of King Abdul Aziz in 1953.Also during the reign of King Abdullah, ‘the Allegiance Council” has been set up.
3) National Dialogue
King Abdullah launched National Dialogue mechanism and allows Saudi citizens to engage each other in addressing issues that concerned society. This is not an idle exercise in a country where civil society is non-existent. The fact that these dialogues are not only occurring but truly significant.
4) King Abdullah’s Education programme
King Abdullah lived up to his reputation as a bold leader. He made decisions that hold a lot of promise for generations to come: his interfaith initiative, his decision to allow women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections, his decision to focus on young Saudis, his decision to spend heavily on the education sector, his decision to institute hundreds and thousands of scholarships in some of the best institutions in the world all these decisions indicated his love for his country and his religion.
a) King Abdullah’s Scholarship programme: King Abdullah established the visionary scholarship programme for the young generation to study abroad. Education was at the heart of reform King Abdullah promoted since taking office in 2005 with the launching of a $2.4 billion education programme in the same year. King Abdullah gave top priority to education and training of young Saudi men and women and allocated more than 25 percent of the national budget for the purpose. During his rule, the number of government universities jumped from eight to 24, giving students in all parts of the country access to higher education. More than 80,000 Saudis are now pursuing their higher education in reputed international universities. There are more than 33,000 schools in the Kingdom with more than five million students representing a third of the nation’s population and nearly 500,000 male and female teachers.
b) King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST): King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST). KAUST is one of the major achievements of King Abdullah. The most notable aspect of King Abdullah’s accomplishments in the advancement of education in September 2009 was the launch of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – KAUST – in Thuwal. On September 23, 2009 when King Abdullah inaugurated a world-class University for Science and Technology in 80 km north of Jeddah, he was not only realizing a dream that was living in his heart for 25 years but was driving home a strong point that the Muslim world has to achieve scientific and technological progress in order to join the League of developed countries.
c) Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University for Women: The year 2007 saw the opening of Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University for women with its 32 colleges across the Riyadh region. This is the first women’s university in Saudi Arabia and largest women-only University in the world. It has a new library capable of holding 4.5 million volumes.
d) King Abdullah’s Scholarship Programme: King Abdullah’s Foreign Scholarship Programme is the largest scholarship programme in the history of the Kingdom. Currently more than 130,000 Saudi students are pursuing different fields of study in some of the best universities in the world.
King Abdullah’s scholarship programme was established in 2005 to sponsor highly qualified Saudi students to continue their studies in different universities across the globe. Since the inauguration of the scholarship programme as many as 62,000 Saudi students have been sent to various colleges and universities around the world. The programme is an integral aspect of the Kingdom’s comprehensive education plans.
5) Empowerment of Women
a) Woman education minister; member shoura council and foreign ambassadors: King Abdullah appointed a woman as Deputy Education Minister and Saud al-Faisal as Foreign Minister declared appointment of several women as ambassadors in the councils and embassies overseas. Innumerable additions and alterations of reforms natures in such areas as human rights, particularly women rights.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde paid tribute to the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, saying he was a strong believer in pushing forward women's rights. Women not only constitute half of Saudi society but they are also the driving force behind the Kingdom’s future development as a 21st-century society.
b) Saudi Women in Shoura Council: King Abdullah appointed 30 highly educated Saudi women to the Shoura Council (consultative assembly) and to ensure women make up at least 20 percent of the Council in the future is a key turning point in the history of the Kingdom. The historic decision by King Abdullah to appoint women, for the first time, to the Shoura Council is a major initiative to reform the existing political system.
6) Expansion of the Two Holy Mosques
a) King Abdullah’s Haram Expansion Project: King Abdullah ordered additional expansions to the Grand Mosque. Described as the largest in Muslim history, the project will create additional prayer space for more than a million worshippers. King Abdullah officially launched on Friday, 19th of August, 2011, the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in history, which will increase the Mosque’s capacity to more than 2.5 million worshippers and cost 80 billion Saudi Riyals. The new project will comprise three parts: construction of a new building; expansion and development of courtyards around the mosque, including walkways, tunnels and toilets; and development of service facilities for air-conditioning, electricity and drinking water.
b) Expansion of Masa’a : The project also include plans to expand the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Ka’aba) and provide air-conditioning for all parts of the Grand Mosque. Masaa, the area between Safa and Marwa, which is located inside the mosque, has been expanded to help pilgrims perform the sa’ie ritual more easily and comfortably. King Abdullah took expansion projects of Masa’a.
c) Makkah Tower Clock: King Abdullah also officially inaugurated the Makkah Tower Clock, considered the largest in the world; the Makkah Time, the newly expanded masaa (the running course between Safa and Marwa); the King Abdul Aziz Endowment Towers; the Jamarat Bridge complex in Mina; and the Mashair Railway linking the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa as well as the sunshades around the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah by pressing buttons.
d) Jamarat Bridge Project : The Jamarat Bridge is 950 meters long and 80 meters wide. Each floor is 12 meters high. The entire project is designed to hold 12 stories and as many as five million pilgrims in the future if the need arises. The project is now complete and ready for pilgrims. The completion of the Jamarat project allows for the throwing of pebbles from all five levels of the bridge.
e) Makkah Metro Monorail Project : The 20 km Makkah Metro monorail project, costing USS1.8 billion, was launched in 2010 to link the Grand Mosque with Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, to ease pilgrim transport. It includes the construction of nine railway stations in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah, each 300 meters long. The metro railway is designed to operate 17 trains with 12 coaches in each train.
f) Haramain Railway Project: Another project, the high-speed Haramain Railway, costing SR37.5 billion will link the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, an entry point for millions of pilgrims to relieve road congestion.
g) King Abdul Aziz Street Project: Another huge project to ease traffic flow in roads close to the Grand Mosque is the new SR12 billion King Abdul Aziz Street project in Makkah. The project, which covers 1.2 million square meters, is scheduled to complete in 2012. It represents a third of development projects and basic infrastructure schemes in Makkah. The road, which runs from Jeddah to Makkah’s entrance, will make entry and exit to and from the Grand Mosque very easy. The 60-meter-wide road would incorporate the Haramain rail tracks.
7) International Interfaith Dialogue
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he admired King Abdullah greatly. “Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally, was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country leading it step by step into the future,” Mr Blair said. He paid tribute to the monarch's advocacy of "inter-faith relations", his embracing of education for women, and his investment in renewable energy.
King Abdullah began this journey of his interfaith dialogue in 2005 in the Holy City of Makkah, when he called on all 57 Muslim heads of state to meet in Islam’s holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. The King travelled to Vatican and met Pope Benedict in 2007 offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. The following year, in June 2008, King Abdullah hosted a first historic Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Makkah al-Mukarramah where more than 500 Muslim religious scholars and leaders attended. It was followed by a multi-religious conference in Madrid in July 2008, which was hosted by King Abdullah along with King Juan Carlos of Spain and attended by more than 300 representatives from Vatican, Anglican Church, Judaism, Hinduism and other faiths. Then King Abdullah took the interfaith dialogue to the global centre-stage at the UN.
The Inauguration Ceremony of King Abdullah International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue (KAICIID) took place on 26th of November 2012 at the Hofburg Vienna.
8) Middle East Peace Initiative
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “And of course he launched the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 which has stood the test of time as a potential basis for a solution to the Israeli Palestine issue," the ex-PM added.