August 4, 2005
DEATH OF KING FAHD: 'POLITICAL CHANGE IN COURSE IS UNLIKELY' IN RIYADH
** King Abdullah's accession signals "stability and continuity" in Saudi policy.
** Arab papers hail King Fahd's "formidable and enduring legacy" and Abdullah's abilities.
** Skeptics see an "enormous potential for conflict" inside a "divided" Saudi Arabia.
** Abdullah faces "intense pressure" to implement "desperately required" reform.
'Little will change'-- Judging Abdullah a "guarantor of continuity" who will "follow in the steps of his late brother," papers agreed it is "legitimate not to expect any changes in Saudi policy" following the death of Saudi King Fahd. The kingdom's "basic policies...will not change," stated Saudi Arabia's moderate Okaz. Dismissing the chance of any "major change in foreign policy," outlets added Abdullah will "continue to pursue a pro-American course." Turkey's conservative Turkiye said Riyadh "will no doubt continue to cling to President Bush," while Spain's centrist La Vanguardia said Abdullah "will maintain the traditional friendship with the U.S."
'Breathtaking progress and prosperity'-- Arab observers lauded Fahd's role in making Saudi Arabia "modern, developed, prosperous and economically powerful." The elite Jordan Times praised Fahd's "moderate, wise and respected leadership," while the pro-government Saudi Gazette termed him a "leader among leaders, a doyen of statesmen...and a source of inspiration." These papers acclaimed Abdullah as an "able successor" who brings "real unity and a strong bond" with his people. Euro skeptics were less appreciative of Riyadh's "closed, autocratic regime." Austria's centrist Die Presse highlighted the "Faustian pact" in which Fahd backed "radical Islamists" abroad while fighting al-Qaida at home.
The 'end is coming' for Riyadh-- Critics stressed the "strengthened Islamic fundamentalism" inside Saudi Arabia that makes it "much less stable." Italy's center-left Il Riformista termed the country a "dangerous powder keg"; other observers opined that "radical Islamism and al-Qaida have solid roots" and threaten the "eruption of a political volcano." Israel's conservative Jerusalem Post stated the country's "collapse will come, even if the West foolishly tries to resist it." Several papers demanded Abdullah "continue the crackdown on Islamist militancy" to guarantee his own position. Nigeria's independent Comet warned that he "cannot afford to relent" in the fight against "disruptive radical religious fundamentalists."
'Still a need for vast reform'-- Papers agreed Abdullah "needs to reform" his country in light of widespread "corruption and extravagance," the "poor macroeconomic figures" and the people's "desires...for more freedom." A few editorialists cited Abdullah's "reformist tendencies" to say he will "carry out meaningful" change. Lebanon's moderate Daily Star noted his "ability to balance the need for reform with the need to maintain...cultural authenticity." But pessimists judged the kingdom "impossible to reform"; Canada's conservative National Post declared that Abdullah cannot "successfully implement...a serious reform agenda." Several argued that there will only be a political "shift of seismic proportions" in a post-Abdullah environment.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, email@example.com
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 81 reports from 29 countries over 1 - 4 August, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "The Saudi Royals Must Reform Or Fall"
An editorial in the left-of-center Independent read (8/2): "So far the rulers have performed a balancing act, presenting one face abroad whilst clamping down on dissent and new ideas at home. Driven partly by President Bush's policy of democracy in the Middle East, the kingdom recently introduced municipal elections, but without the participation of women. It has also continued to arrest critics of the regime, however mild, whilst conducting a violent campaign against religious extremists."
The conservative Times said (8/2): "Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves, which give it an obvious global strategic importance. It is one of the world's richest countries, which means that it has regional and international financial influence. And it is the heartland of Islam, which brings a religious authority that comes with rights and responsibilities. How King Abdullah exercises his power is therefore of huge importance not only to a young and restless generation of Saudis, but also to America, Europe, the industrialised democracies and almost a billion Muslims around the world."
"Things Are Not As Calm As They Seem In The Sands Of Saudi Arabia"
Patrick Bishop commented in the conservative Daily Telegraph (8/2): "The Saudis may not be democrats and are unlikely to become so any time soon. We may not like their apparent profligacy and refusal to endorse modern mores. But strange times make for strange friendships. This is one we would do well to sustain and nurture."
"Death Of A King"
The left-of-center Guardian declared (8/2): "Post-Iraq rhetoric from Washington about spreading democracy in the Middle East has not penetrated very far into the secretive royal diwans of Riyadh and Jeddah, and it is far from clear whether the US administration is serious anyway. Yet gradual change will be vital if the Saudi middle classes are to support a dynasty that knows how to manage the death of a king but still needs to prove that it has real long-term staying power."
"A Poisonous Recipe: King Abdullah Must Avoid Concocting More Of The Same"
The independent Financial Times argued (8/2): "With King Fahd alive, it was argued, Abdullah did not have a free hand to pursue reform, meaning that patience was called for. As king, Abdullah must now be seen to clear the way for reform. The time for indulgence has passed."
FRANCE: "After Fahd"
Pierre Rousselin wrote in right-of-center Le Figaro (8/2): "The democratization wanted by the U.S. has started with great carefulness, with the first ballot in the country this year: the election of half of the members of the municipal councils. King Fahd had reinforced the strategic alliance with America, which was to reach its peak in 1991 during the war to liberate Kuwait. Since then, there have been the attacks against the twin towers in New York on the 11th of September 2001 and the shock due to the fact that fifteen out of nineteen terrorists were Saudis. Arabia managed to recover. With King Abdullah, it now needs to reform.”
François Ernenwein wrote in Catholic La Croix (8/2): "At the Arabic court, the idea of a constitutional monarchy always made people shudder. Diplomatic ambiguities, when the rapprochment with the U.S. and the West during the first Gulf war...did not prevent the recognition of the Afghanistan Taliban regime. In face of the terrorist threat of Islamic extremists, among which many are from Saudi Arabia, such as Osama Bin Laden, Riyadh has chosen to play it by ear. Sometimes close, sometimes away from the Western preoccupations.”
"Magic And Saudi Mirages"
Françoise Crouigneau commented in economic Les Echos (8/2): "Saudi Arabia which has been one of the main buyers of weapons in the world in the last thirty years will remain wooed. And even if they were to diversify their sources of supply, the U.S. knows it will still depend for a long time on a country that has a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and even more of an unequalled production possibility to absorb possible crisis. Not to forget a role to limit the risks of implosion in the Middle East.”
"A Narrow Way"
Pascal Aubert opined in economic La Tribune (8/2): "Despite his eighty-two years, King Abdullah is not regarded as hostile to changes. He is watching to ensure any evolution of the kingdom goes through a measured and controlled process. And never mind those who are dreaming of immediate democratization or those in favor of the status quo. Social progress and political openness will happen with measured steps unless social tensions were created that could lead to degeneration.”
Patrick Sabatier noted in left-of-center Libération (8/2): "The landscape of the Saudi desert is almost immutable, new monarch or not. But its fabulous underground does not contain only oil: the game of tectonics accumulates tremendous energies that are calling for breaking out, into upheaval. It’s not for nothing that the one famous Saudi outside the country’s borders...is Bin Laden. Nothing is predicting that the Saudi reformers will be condemned to failure. But the gun is on their temple.”
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger opined in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (8/4): "Saudi Arabia's relationship with the West, mainly with the U.S., is complicated, but close. 9/11 did not change this too much, even though the majority of perpetrators were of Saudi origin, even though Saudi Arabia's support of Islamism resulted in disastrous consequences, and even though U.S. policy no longer accepts everything that is justified as 'stability' in the Saudi desert empire. As a successor to the throne, the new King Abdallah tried to reduce tensions in relations with the U.S. and to concentrate on fundamental, joint interests. The fact that, on the day when Saudi princes paid homage to him, he also expected U.S. Vice President Cheney, is an expression of the closeness of the Saud family with the Republican administration, its security patron. Abdullah would be well-advised, in addition to oil and regional security policies, to make cooperation in the fight against terrorism a pivotal point of Saudi-U.S. relations. Saudi Arabia, which continues to play an energy policy key role must clearly become part of the solution in the fight against terrorism. And this includes the fight in the country itself and on the international stage."
Tobias Bayer noted in business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg (8/4): "King Fahd is dead, but at the oil markets this news seems to have caused a lasting shock. The prices for a barrel of oil have stagnated over the 60-dollar level.... The industrialized nations...are afraid that oil wells could be closed. But this fear is unfounded, since the reasons for the bottlenecks and crisis lie elsewhere.... People like to ignore that the state-run Saudi Aramco oil-producing company is a western-led company that spends a lot of money on tapping and exploiting new raw material deposits. From a customer viewpoint Saudi Aramco is an idol and thus a model for other companies, especially ExxonMobil, which, when looking to its share price, obviously pursues a policy of cutting down supplies and of holding back with new exploration projects.... For the West, there is no reason to worry, since Saudi Arabia urgently needs the revenue from the oil sales to feed its rapidly growing population. That is why it would be mad [for the Saudis] to stymie international demand by pursuing a high-price policy.... But all this is well-known and calculable. But less calculable and predictable are the exorbitantly high prices for diesel and heating oil that currently exist in the U.S.... The reasons for this development have little to do with world markets but are home-made.... Prices rise on a regular basis before the real product season, while they drop during the peak season.... There is a reason for this: U.S. refineries work at full capacity, and it is now coming back to haunt the U.S. that it focused only on short-term developments and did not sufficiently invest in new plants. An increase in demand is faced with a limited degree of supplies. And the Americans must be blamed more for this than the Saudi dynasty. Products determine prices. King Fahd is dead. Long live King Diesel."
"Threats To The Saudi Clan"
Right-of-center Schwäbische Zeitung of Leutkirch concluded (8/3): "May the Islamists be very alarming for the West, it will not perish because of them. The situation is different for the monarchy in the desert. Bin Laden, Al Qaida and everything that is linked to them, has turned into a life-threatening threat to the Saud clan. Even the practice to free themselves from terror through global payments to fundamentalists no longer works. Bin Laden and Co. want the heads of the princes. Despite the tough measures of security forces, there seems to be enough support among the people for the 'Jihadis,' because the Sauds missed the opportunity to reform themselves and their empire. There is still some time to do this, but time is pressing. We do not want to imagine what would happen if Saudi Arabia fell into the hands of Al Qaida supporters, Then a war is looming that will no longer be limited to the region."
"Its Future Course"
Right-of-center Hamburger Morgenpost said (8/3): "It is certainly not the concern over the future course of the desert state...which is now worrying the West after King Fahd's death.... Saudi Arabia's new ruler will continue to pursue a pro-American course, but it will be difficult to be, on the one hand, the 'Guardian of Holy Sites,' and, on the other hand, the guardian of the nerve center for the stuff that lubricates the global economy. But the internal state of the young empire is really worrying. On the one hand, the monarchy represents the Wahhabite variant of Islam--arch-conservative, archaic, and hostile to reforms. But, on the other hand, members of the royal family have always be good for headlines--drinking bouts, womanizers, corruption. And this contradiction is grist to the mill of the opposition. King Fahd's death--the Islamists in Riyadh, Jidda, Medina, and Mecca will consider this a sign to the wall for the final struggle for the reconquest of the holy sites."
"Facing Enormous Tasks"
Wolfgang Günter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (8/2): "In the conflict with extremists, Saudi Arabia is caught in a trap it set up on its own. Neither the Taliban nor Al Qaida would have been developed without Saudi Arabia's massive cooperation. Those who export a rigid form of Islamism should not be surprised if their yardsticks fall back on them, if they harvest the fruit of things for which they sowed the seeds. And those in the West must also partly be blamed who, in the fight against common enemies--for instance the Soviet occupation power in Afghanistan--have cooperated for much too long and totally unscrupulously with the most radical elements of a violent Islamic fundamentalism. The new king, who is already an old man, is faced with enormous tasks. Even the wealthy Saudi Arabia is faced with economic bottlenecks. In addition, there are the timid 'reforms' that were initiated by his predecessor and half-brother Fahd.... A greater say for the population could be one possibility to narrow views with the exiled opposition and to take some of the wind out of its sails. Riyadh's most powerful ally, the U.S., plans to turn the Middle and Near East into a zone of democracies. Abdullah only recently said that it is necessary to respect the tradition of the peoples in the region in this process. The King is under pressure from Wahhabite religious leaders who would damn too much of an opening as a illegitimate renewal. But they are the most important pillars of the rulers."
Dietrich Alexander said in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (8/2): "Abdullah guarantees continuity and predictability, and he will not sacrifice his alliance with the United States for dubious concessions to religious radicals in his empire. The pictures that depict George W. Bush and Abdallah at the president's ranch in Crawford may be enough as evidence. The two nations do not love each other but they need each other. Riyadh needs the protection of the superpower, while Washington does not want to lose the goodwill of the most important oil producer in the world. But King Abdallah will have to be vigilant. With sensitiveness, he will have to try the dichotomy between social reforms and a moderate opening on the one hand and showing consideration for the religious claims of his people on the other hand. The desert monarchy must make up its mind: to give in to Islamic zealots or to commit itself to moderately restructuring society based on Islamic principles. Early this year, Abdallah allowed municipal elections; obviously he has made up his mind…but he does not have too much time left."
"Friends Of Yesterday"
Business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg editorialized (8/2): "Since King Fahd's half-brother has ruled for a long time, we cannot expect a change of course in Riyadh. But this is what the West should be seriously worried about. At the latest since 9/11, it has become clear what is the global policy price for the ostensible quiet on the Arab peninsula. Under the absolutist rule of the Monarchic clan, which no one controls, an enormous potential for conflict has built up in Saudi society. While hundreds of princes spend a life in abundance with their petro-dollars, the perspectives for the young, quickly growing population have deteriorated over the past decades.... But by showing consideration for the very important business relations, no one in the West has dared to say this loud until today.... The Saudi monarchy has hopelessly got entangled in the dual role of being the modern guardian of the largest oil reserves in the world and being, at the same time, the traditional guardian of a pure, only true Islam. For the West, and the U.S. in particular, there can be only one consequence: the times when the West cultivated a strategic partnership during which it turned a blind eye to the rulers in Riyadh like during King Fahd's time, are a thing of the past. Even though oil is still important, but, with respect to global policy, the Islamic export goods of the Saudis are also very delicate today."
"No Reason For Hope"
Centrist Heilbronner Stimme noted (8/2): "King Fahd is dead--what can the world expect now? Optimists refer to the fact that his successor Abdullah has been in office for more than one decade. But the fact that the 80-year-old man is now officially entering the throne is no reason for hope for Saudi Arabia remaining a reliable partner of the West--if it has ever been one. The U.S., the West calls a country a friend in which democracy and human rights are underdeveloped, a country which has financed the majority of Islamic terror actions, a country from which 15 of the 19 attackers from 9/11 came from, and a country in which women and non-Muslims are discriminated. King Fahd and Prince Abdullah have been responsible. Saudi Arabia--a good ally?"
Tomas Avenarius opined in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (8/2): "As self-appointed 'Guardian of the Holy Sites' in Mecca and Medina, and with its billions of dollars from oil revenue in their back, Saudi Arabia's rulers demand to be respected as political and religious hegemon of the entire Islamic world. But irrespective of this, their desert state is especially conservative, resistant to reforms and despite all the petro-dollars, the most underdeveloped Islamic state. And not only this, militant Islam has its origins in the religious, political system of the Saudis.... Abdullah is an old man and it is likely that Saudi Arabia's fate will be decided with the end of his rule. Unlike Fahd and Abdullah, the younger princes disagree on the future course of the country. Should it side with the West or become even ore Islamic--and anti-Western? The danger for the latter course is great. Wahhabism offers clear starting points for a strengthened Islamic fundamentalism. The problems of the country could intensify this. Al Qaida and supporting non-militant forces are deeply rooted in the country. In addition, there are social tensions...which are covered by the high oil prices, but will not resolve this problems. Since Saudi Arabia has the largest crude oil reserves, it is a supporting pillar of the global economy. What is now happening under King Fahd's successors influences the life of people in New York, Berlin, London, and Paris, and this without any time delay."
ITALY: "Surreal Western Homage To King Fahd, Saudi ‘Sorpano'"
Carlo Panella wrote in pro-government, elite Il Foglio (8/3): “It is a surreal show. In Riyadh, all the world powers bowed before the remains of a man who never accomplished anything except the good life...who never promoted an international initiative worthy of such a name...who financed suicide bombers who massacred children, women, and Jewish civilians, who, in his kingdom, prohibited the construction of churches and the freedom of Christian prayer. But this man, King Fahd...was bid farewell by great leaders as if the world were deprived of a hero.... U.S. President George W. Bush described him as, ‘A friend and an ally of the U.S. for decades, a wise man and a leader that earned the respect of the whole world'.... Bush must have forgotten that his Department of State accused the Saudis of conducting slave trade.... This picture is tolerated by the international community only for a single reason of interest : the sea of oil on which this medieval Asian kingdom navigates. It is indispensable to have this madness clear in our minds in order to understand why the war on Islamic terrorism, born naturally in Saudi Arabia, is so long, difficult, and slow.”
"Farewell To King Fahd, A Nameless Tomb In The Public Cemetery"
Roberto Baldini noted in conservative, top-circulation syndicate Quotidiano Nazionale (8/3): “Saudi Arabia has turned the page, at a moment in which, aside from the enduring Iraqi crisis, the new tug-of-war between the EU and Iran over the nuclear question raises tension in the region. A great mediator like King Fahd would be needed, whose ability and authority...led to many successes, beginning with the agreement that ratified peace in Libya after 15 years of civil war. Instead, in his place will be Abdullah, who also inherited the title of ‘Guardian of the Sacred Mosques’ of Mecca and Medina. Nothing will change, headlined yesterday’s Arab newspapers placing emphasis on the elements of continuity between Fahd and Abdullah. But, because of their differences, the geopolitical scenario could change in the coming months.”
"A Kingdom In The Name Of Islam And With The Help of Washington"
Mimmo Candito asserted in centrist, influential La Stampa (8/2): “The death of King Fahd closes an era that was locked in the immobility of tradition. And it opens courses in history that could be crucial for the entire Middle East.... This death...comes during a phase of political tension that couldn’t be more dramatic and destabilizing. Saudi Arabia is at the center of al Qaeda’s deadly attacks. Sheik Osama, who puts bombs and bomb-planes in the West’s daily history, in reality is aiming to chase out...the blasphemous family of the Saudi princes...and to replace it with a new millenarian Caliphate, mystically projected toward putting back at the center of the world the law of the Koran and the will of Allah. In this delicate transitional phase whose outcome is unknown, even the imbalance provoked by the movement of a tiny part of the mosaic...could cause a shock wave that could spread with destructive consequences west of the Gulf and of its immense oil reserves.”
"The Pro-American Autocrat"
An editorial in elite, center-left Il Riformista read (8/2): “The new couple that rules the most archaic regime of the Arab and Muslim world, seems even less inclined towards reforms than the deceased King Fahd. Geopolitical interests will guide their moves more than their personal convictions. And this will require them to make some kind of concession to the Americans, who are convinced that Abdullah and Sultan have closed an eye to religious fundamentalism...and to the spread of radicalism. Osama Bin Laden hates them both and his plans are to oust the family that proclaims itself the ‘custodian of the sacred mosques of Mecca and Medina.’ Reforms, therefore, must be handled with care in the Arab peninsula. Nonetheless...realpolitik has not been a good counselor. The failure to liberalize politics, to redistribute the immense oil resources, and to promote new elites, has turned Saudi Arabia into a dangerous powder keg. And into an insurmountable obstacle for the ambitious project to democratize the Middle East.”
"A Future Full Of Unknowns With The U.S."
Marco Guidi observed in Rome-based center-left Il Messaggero (8/2): “Officially nothing should change, especially in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. But in reality much has changed already after September 11.... While in the immediate future it is legitimate not to expect any changes in Saudi policy towards the U.S. and the West, things could change in the medium-term.... Certainly, the kingdom’s importance will increase with the price of the barrel, which today is at 62 dollars--an importance that must take into account not only of the external...but of a changing internal situation. On one side are the fundamentalists who preach against the ‘corrupt monarchy,’ and who are gathering more and more consensus.... And then there are al Qaeda terrorists, whose attacks are expected to continue.... And how will the kingdom take western requests to continuously increase oil production and Chinese offers for higher prices? A great deal also depends on what will happen in the Middle East: If the Palestinian and Iraqi situations are decongested, Saudi Arabia could benefit. In the opposite case, turnarounds that were unthinkable until only a little while ago, could occur.”
RUSSIA: "The Family Too Old"
Nataliya Gevorkyan observed in business-oriented Kommersant (8/2): "The Saudi family is very old. It barely keeps up with the times. Oil prices, however high, won’t fend off change. In fact, oil brings change even closer, which is ironic. As much as it tries to adhere to rigid Islamic laws, Saudi Arabia increasingly integrates into the big wide world, with all the risks involved. In exactly the same way, the Soviet elite did not realize the nation no longer trusted its ‘centenarian’ leaders and the principles they proclaimed.... As time goes by, people become better informed and educated, and their ambitions change. There may be nothing accidental about Saudis accounting for more terrorists than any other country. For some young people this is a way to fulfill themselves.... Being silent doesn’t mean being happy or content with how things go. To some romantics making up al-Qaida’s backbone, Osama bin-Laden is a far better and more respected leader than all the 80-year old kings put together. They will hardly stand by when throne shakes underneath the king.”
"What’s In The Offing"
Yelena Suponina said in reformist Vremya Novostey (8/2): “The opposition is confident that changes in Saudi Arabia are not far off, with more power struggles in the world’s richest and most influential monarchy and more suicide bombings and rises in oil prices elsewhere in the world.”
AUSTRIA: "The Hour Of Truth Is Near"
Gudrun Harrer contended in independent Der Standard (8/2): "The greatest challenge for the House of Saud is internal: How to explain to its own people--many of them young men and women--the contradiction between the claims of Saudi ideology and reality. How to explain to them that a car is in itself a good thing, but bad when a woman is behind the wheel? And the fact that, when a woman is actually driving a car, it is not allowed to beat or even murder her. How will the rulers explain where the dividing line is between Wahhabite state doctrine and Jihad madness? And how the fact that this dividing line is not one that can be moved arbitrarily--following political opportunism? These are explanations that we in the West would be keen to hear as well."
"False Friends In Riyadh"
Foreign affairs editor Christian Ultsch commented in centrist Die Presse (8/2): "The political course pursued by Saudi Arabia represents a threat to the entire free world. The radical-Islamic epidemic that has infected young, potentially violent Muslims all around the globe has its roots there. Despite promises to the contrary, its rulers did nothing to seriously fight this virus. While fighting against al-Qaida terrorists at home they are giving money to radical Islamists at the same time. After all, the House of Saud can only ensure its powerful position through a Faustian pact of this sort. The West, on the other hand, will continue to purchase its oil from a country where women are not allowed to drive. After all, a regime which whom one can do business is still better than one that will openly show its hostile face. As long as King Abdallah continues to evoke the danger of an Islamic revolution, he will be courted, even if he is the one who promotes Islamism."
Nina Koren wrote in mass-circulation provincial Kleine Zeitung (8/2): "What is important to the House of Saud, but also to the oil-dependent Western world, is stability. Therefore, the power transfer in Saudi Arabia will be well prepared and smooth. However, that's all that the good news there is. After all, the new King Abdallah is already 81 years old and the end of his reign is foreseeable. What will come afterwards could culminate in a palace revolt and the eruption of a political volcano: Abdallah's heirs are divided with regard to succession and it is by no means certain whether they will prefer to work with or against the West in the future. Tensions within the country are already running high--radical Islamism and al-Qaida have solid roots there. It may very well be that, a few years from now, the US will have a terror problem in Saudi Arabia that will make the situation in Iraq seem like a walk in the park."
BELGIUM: "King Fahd’s Surprising Popularity"
Philippe Paquet remarked in independent La Libre Belgique (8/2): "What is surprising is all the praise that is given to the late King by almost all capitals in the world. There is probably no reason to question the political and human qualities of King Fahd, who got to the throne shortly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Eager to show to all Muslims in the world that his country had no reason to be jealous of Iran in terms of religious purity, King Fahd had to reconcile this obligation with the need to modernize Saudi society.... Yet, in spite of the reforms that were undertaken, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most intolerant countries on the planet. Just the Saudi women’s condition is enough to make all the praise given by Western Heads of State inappropriate. The absence of any political or religious freedom, the flouting of human rights, social and economic inequities--which feed Islamist terrorism, the despicable treatment of immigrant workers without whom Saudi Arabia would not be able to live, and the opacity of a Medieval regime, all this are the characteristics of a country that, if it did not have oil, would be a pariah.”
Mia Doornaert speculated in Christian-Democrat De Standaard (8/2): "The change on the Saudi throne, where Prince Abdullah is succeeding the late King Fahd, is not really a rejuvenation. The new King is 82 and, like his late half-brother, a son of the founder of the dynasty. That is an indication of the archaic character of a country that is ruled by a nontransparent royal family and by an ultraconservative clergy, and which appears to be impossible to reform, although reforms are urgently needed.”
CZECH REPUBLIC: "Change Can Still Wait"
Adam Cerny noted in business-oriented Hospodarske noviny (8/2): "Saudi Arabia is not entering a new era with the death of King Fahd. The tension between attempts at reform and the tendency to stick to a conservative approach to Islam is nothing new. Ambivalence is also visible between the strategic ties to the U.S. and finances which go through Islamic religious foundations to mongers of the holy war against the West. This ambiguity will not disappear in the foreseeable future and therefore an overall assessment of the country, which is the biggest oil exporter in the world and the guardian of the most sacred Islamic sites, will continue to vary.... The absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia does not have absolute power, but must act tactically among individual clans of the large Saudi royal family. Most of their leaders, largely Fahd's brothers, are of an advanced age and will prefer the existing careful maneuvering. [Therefore] Saudi Arabia will still have to wait for a more significant change--for better or worse."
NETHERLANDS: "Saudi Arabia After Fahd: Major Changes But No Change In Course"
Left-of-center Trouw editorialized (8/2): “A political change in course is unlikely but nevertheless, Saudi Arabia under the new King Abdullah will see some major changes. The country is in a vortex in which the role of the helmsman is limited to keeping the ship straight without having much influence on the course it is sailing. It makes little difference whether the king’s name is Fahd or Abdullah. Abdullah has been in charge for years now, or actually, he tried to be in charge. He increasingly was confronted with forces so strong that they had their own dynamics and, for example, cost almost three thousand lives in New York on September 11, 2001. Saudi Arabia pays the toll of its history. The country is the product of religious wars, fought in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century.... Saudi Arabia can go two ways: either Saudi Arabia emerges as a real strong united state or the country collapses. Given his age, King Abdullah will most likely not live to see it all happen. The real blow is expected to come after his death.”
NORWAY: "A Despot Has Died"
Independent VG remarked (8/2): "We will likely not see any significant political changes in Saudi Arabia following the death of King Fahd yesterday.... Despite a few minuscule reforms over the past few years, Saudi Arabia remains a closed, autocratic regime.... In exchange for Saudi Arabian oil, the U.S. has given the country military and political protection. This is in many ways a paradox; while making a great deal of the idea of spreading democracy to Muslim countries, President George W. Bush is protective of the least democratic one of them. We would have expected the U.S. to do more to force their closest allies to introduce democratic reforms. However, such reforms could just as well lead to greater access for extremist Islamic forces. Islamic fundamentalists, inspired by Osama bin Laden and others, have over the past few years fought a bloody battle to bring down the royal family in Saudi-Arabia.... It is first and foremost its close relationship to the U.S. that has created such anger against the regime, and there is little reason to think that the death of King Fahd will mean an end to the attacks. In 1992, after the first Gulf War, King Fahd introduced a few carefully-crafted political reforms...but it would be wrong to call this effort a step towards democracy.... There is every reason to expect that medieval conditions will prevail for a long time yet in Saudi Arabia.”
ROMANIA: "King Fahd Is Dead, Long Live Abdallah"
Simona Haiduc wrote in independent Curentul (8/2): "The death of King Fahd is not expected to cause problems in Saudi Arabia’s oil exports. Given that, at the international level, the supply of ‘black gold’ meets the increasing demand of the world’s highest consumers (the US, China, and India) with difficulty, Saudi Arabia is the only member of the cartel that can increase its production quotas.”
"King Fahd Has Died"
Marius Anton and Mihnea Anastasiu maintained in financial Ziarul Financiar (8/2): "Saudi Arabia plays a key role in America’s strategy, as it is both the main oil supplier to the US and the country where the principle American bases in the Persian Gulf area are located. In order to diminish this double dependency, the Bush administration is trying to build a special relationship with Iraq, which might become the main oil supplier to the US in the future.”
SLOVENIA: "Departure Of Leopard"
Ales Gaube commented in left-of-center independent Dnevnik (8/2): "King Fahd was one of the great Arab leaders. With his policy, he significantly co-created the image of contemporary Middle East and contributed to its problems.... The new king has inherited an important legacy. Like his predecessor, he will have to maintain a balance between strategic friendship with the U.S. and Islamic identity of his country.... The beginning of reforms and sending the American military away from the sacred holy land would be listed among his greatest achievements by King Abdullah. However, both important turning points were brought about by charity and pressure of the friend in the White House, rather than the King's exclusive wish.... The royal family had to pay for the withdrawal of the U. S. military with first elections in the country. If the wind of democracy...began to blow in less pro-American Arab countries, the major U.S. ally in the region could not lag behind.... King Abdullah will not become next hostage of 'U.S. new Middle East policy' according to which democracy is worth more than stability and continuity. The White House will let him set the contents and pace of reforms.... As long as the flow of Saudi oil into American factories is undisturbed and at an acceptable price, Bush will not knock with Jefferson's Declaration of Independence on the door of the royal palace in Riyadh."
"Sand, Blood And Oil"
Vojislav Bercko wrote in left-of-center independent Vecer (8/2): "Little will change in the Middle East after King Fahd's burial.... Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries and a typical example of prevalence of religious life over secular life.... American presence in the Arab world is the biggest challenge for all Muslims.... By establishing its military bases...the U.S. military threw down the gauntlet, which current generations of terrorists gladly accepted.... Threat of terrorism will continue.... Besides anti-Americanism, it is also generated by the situation in Israel. While the U.S. may one day withdraw from Saudi Arabia--and this may lessen the tension--the Zionist country at the Mediterranean cannot be eliminated."
"Death Of Co-Creator Of Enemies"
Barbara Surk noted in left-of-center Delo (8/1): "The new [Saudi] king will carry the burden of Fahd's political decisions with which he institutionalized hypocrisy: on one hand, he pulled tight Islamic fetters; on the other hand, he hosted American military to subjugate the region. He agreed that the extremely conservative society had to be reformed, but at the same time, he resolved its problems by giving more authority to the moral police.... King Abdullah is a guarantor of continuity. Unlike his dead brother, he can in fluent English assure that Arabia will 'slowly, slowly' become democratic; but only if it remains Saudi. This is what representatives of the Bush Administration wanted to hear on 'the sad day when the Arab world lost a great leader' and America lost a partner in removing an old enemy--a communist--and creating a new one--an Islamic terrorist."
SPAIN: "Saudi Continuity"
Left-of-center El País declared (8/2): "It is not likely that King Fahd´s death will change anything essential in Saudi Arabia.... What is important in the international scenario is the factor of stability and continuity that Abdullah represents in respect to oil.... The oldest and strategically most important US ally in Middle East has been involved for some time in rebuilding formerly privileged ties, half broken after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. To the point that, in an gesture unimaginable a few years ago, it has been announced that Bush will not attend the Saudi monarch’s funeral. If that is (Saudi Arabia’s) main diplomatic challenge, the biggest challenges are of internal nature.... The new king’s other fundamental challenge affects the security of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is today much less stable than it was a few years ago, because of Islamic fundamentalism.... The Saudi regime has shown itself firm against terrorism, but the political strength of radical Islamism has grown in this kingdom of oil, as in other places in the region... Abdullah’s fundamental task is to promote the democratization of a country anchored in ways of representation incompatible with its economic role and the political stability it strives for."
Centrist La Vanguardia opined (8/2): "The new King Abdullah find himself at the head of a state with a high level of corruption and with serious contradictions...and, as certainly of the fact that while he declares that his kingdom is the best friend of the west, especially of the US, the money and the ideology that has financed international terrorism has come out from Saudi safes.... In foreign policy, although (Abdullah) has declared himself more conservative than the deceased King Fahd, he has shown with his two visits to President Bush’s ranch in Texas, with whom his family has businesses, that he will maintain the traditional friendship with the U.S."
"Continuity Or Reform: The Saudi Paradox"
Felipe Sahagaun stated in independent El Mundo (8/2): "The Saudi royal house announced yesterday the continuity of its main policies.... Taking into account that (Abdullah's) succession started ten years ago...this is a predictable, although worrisome, message.... Continuity would be very negative, because Saudi Arabia faces strategic, political, economic and social challenges that need very difficult answers.... Abdullah has a reformist agenda but is between two lines of fire and has little leeway, thousands of grandchildren and nephews that will resist any loss of power and privileges, and is too old for any revolutions.... For ten years we have been hearing that prince Abdullah is a convinced reformist, but because he was the heir and not the king, was not able to make the necessary changes.... While he looks for a balance between relations with the West and Wahabi clerics to facilitate peace in the region and allows the integration of the country into the global economic system and the WTO, Minister of the Interior Nayef has appropriated the monotheistic principle of...the founder of Wahabism.... For most radicals, like Osama bin Laden and his many allies inside the kingdom, Abdullah...is a traitor that, by continuing Fahd's policy, is playing along with a great conspiracy of polytheists and idolaters...in order to destroy true Islam. They see daily evidence in today's Iraq.... Until September 11, the West was looking somewhere else. Since then, it has multiplied pressure for the Saudi royal house to reform its domestic and foreign policy.... The U.S. and Saudi Arabia still need each other: Saudi Arabia in order to defend itself from Al Qaeda, and the U.S. for oil stability and stabilization in Iraq."
"After King Fahd's Death¨
Conservative La Razon editorialized (8/2): "Although the relationship between Washington and the Saudi Monarchy have always been complex and ambiguous...the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York, carried out mainly by Saudi citizens, caused a change in relations. It marked the end of Saudi ambiguity. Many US politicians thought that Saudi Arabia had done very little to break the surge of Al Qaeda's network.... The attacks in Saudi Arabia in May 2003...was, without a doubt, the point of inflection for the Saudi authorities...that, since that time, developed a policy of zero tolerance towards Islamic terrorism and, at the same time, started lukewarm political reforms to allow for a certain grade of democracy."
TURKEY: "The Death Of King Fahd"
Yilmaz Oztuna commented in conservative Turkiye (8/3): “The Saudi dynasty is top-heavy compared with other dynasties we have seen throughout history. Saudi wealth comes from the country’s oil resources, which are the world’s largest. Saudi Arabia remains the biggest oil exporter in the world. The oil drilling business in Saudi Arabia belongs to American companies. Although the Sauids have had close relations with the US since the country was established, they have now, for the first time, entrusted the kingdom to their first anti-American monarch. Because of his brother’s illness, King Abdullah has been the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia for some time. Despite his anti-American inclinations, it would be unrealistic to expect Abdullah to pursue a policy that is truly independent from the U.S. He will no doubt continue to cling to President Bush. It is obvious that the US will not allow such an oil rich country to make a clean break from US influence.”
"The King Died, Long Live The New King"
Erdal Safak commented in mass-appeal Sabah (8/2): “Saudi King Fahd died and crown prince Abdullah, his 82-year-old half brother, was appointed as the new monarch. This means that the old generation will continue to rule the country for a while longer. They are old, conservative, and against all kinds of social reform. King Abdullah, who has been the de facto ruler for the last ten years, is exerting great efforts to save the regime. In order to ease tension in the country, he opened the way for some new steps, including a discussion about women’s rights and holding elections for local administrations. But Abdullah has continued to jail people who act against his wishes. Will these few, limited measures be sufficient to save the kingdom? Unless certain reforms are implemented in the education system, King Abdullah and his dynasty cannot have peace, and the war against bin-Laden cannot be won. The regime in Saudi Arabia will have a hard time until a younger and more liberal administration replaces the current one. Of course, that is, if the regime can survive until then.”
"Death Of The King"
Nuh Gonultas wrote in conservative-sensational DB Tercuman (8/2): “The Saudi royal family is facing a tough period following the death of King Fahd. The events of 9/11 marked a new beginning for Saudi Arabia, which faced a debate over the legitimacy of the Saudi regime and its relationship with the US. King Fahd used to support the US at all costs. But the new ruler, King Abdullah, is known for his stance against the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially its Iraq policy. There is also an unsettled issue over oil prices between Riyadh and Washington, with Saudi Arabia remaining the largest oil producer in OPEC. American financial circles are worried about the a continuing decrease in Saudi investment in the US because of anti-Americanism that began following 9/11. Saudi Arabia is facing difficult times ahead in its relations with the US, because Riyadh is not acting enthusiastically in the war on terrorism.”
ISRAEL: "The Crumbling House Of Saud"
The conservative, independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (8/2): "King Fahd, who died yesterday, was the Saudi leader who invited American troops into his kingdom to repel Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but he was also the world leader most responsible for creating the monstrous world of militant Islamism.... In June at Cairo University, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke not just of the need for truly free elections in Egypt, but of the 'brave citizens demanding accountable government' in Saudi Arabia.... This sort of frank talk is revolutionary in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Yet it is barely a taste of what could be done. The Saudi human rights record, despite the image of having created a 'modern state,' is not dissimilar to that of the Taliban. The funding by Saudi 'charities' of a global network of radical Islamist indoctrination continues. So does institutionalized anti-Semitism which, if it happened in place like Austria, would long ago have triggered an international boycott.... There is, in short, much to be done. Though the U.S. has become blunter and bolder, it is still an open question whether America considers the House of Saud as the 'devil it knows' and therefore preferable to most foreseeable alternatives. Ultimately, however, the experience from the demise of the oddly similar Soviet ideological gerontocracy indicates that collapse will come, even if the West foolishly tries to resist it. King Fahd's death may not mark the immediate end of an era, but it is a reminder that that end is coming."
"A Sense Of Saudi Stability"
Zvi Bar'el wrote in independent, left-leaning Ha'aretz (8/2): "The sense the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] has managed to convey over the past decade, on the surface at least, has been one of political stability.... But this stability has to be reexamined against the backdrop of the developments that have taken place in Saudi Arabia over the past decade, and the past two years in particular. The stability rests on two foundations--recognition of the heir system among the seven brothers, and the understanding that the ruling family is bound to see to the welfare of the kingdom's citizens. But these two foundations themselves rest on an aging family...whose members harbor a fair amount of mistrust for one another.... Tension also exists between Interior Minister Prince Naif, who is also waiting in line for the throne, and Abdullah on questions pertaining primarily to reforms in the country.... The pressures from home with regard to the problem of poverty have joined the religious pressure on the part of the Shi'ite minority, as well as anti-reform pressure from radical circles. Thus far, [King] Abdullah has done relatively well in maneuvering around these pressures, but with the line to the throne becoming ever shorter, he may find himself facing a few more rebels from within his own house. When it comes to foreign policy, it is clear to the Saudi royal family that there is no cause for change."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Pledge Of Allegiance Reinforces Relationship Between Leadership And Citizens"
Riyadh’s moderate Al-Jazira editorialized (8/4): "Yesterday we watched another feature of the relationship between the leaders of this country and its citizens, when citizens marched to offer their pledge of allegiance to King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. The pledge of allegiance is an essential political measure and a must. It is not a mere tradition, but a basic Shari’a law requirement. Furthermore, the pledge reflects the strong relationship between the rulers and the citizens, as well as a renewal of confidence in the leaders."
Abha’s moderate Al-Watan argued (8/4): "After the pledge of allegiance to King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enters into a new phase of development and progress. Yet, the general outlines of Saudi policy, which were founded by the late King Abdulaziz, will not change.... In general, Saudi policies are firm, based on principles and interests, which do not overlap with each other."
The pro-government English-language Arab News concluded (8/4): "'I pledge to God, and then I pledge to you that I take the Qur’an as my constitution, Islam as my program, and to work for justice and serve all citizens without discrimination,'” King Abdullah said in his first address to the nation after succeeding his late half-brother King Fahd. There was nothing surprising about this emphasis on Islam. Long before oil was discovered Saudi Arabia was the leader of Muslims all over the world, now numbering one billion. And long after the last oil well has dried out Saudi Arabia will still enjoy the love and affection of the Muslim world because they know this nation will never cut itself from its moorings to win the applause of some Western commentators. King Abdullah’s speech is noted for another aspect of the Saudi policy. That is the rapport between the rulers and the ruled.... He made this appeal in a speech aired on state television after receiving the pledge of allegiance from the Saudi people, officials and religious leaders.... What matters ultimately is the people’s allegiance given beyond the camera’s eye and given on a continuing basis."
"A Pledge And A Vow"
Jeddah’s moderate Okaz held (8/4): "On this historical day, Saudi citizens offered their allegiance to King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, which reflected a real unity and strong bond between the leadership and the citizens. Likewise, the new King pledged to take the path of his father, the Kingdom’s founder, the path of his brothers, and the Holy Qur’an as a constitution, and Islam as a way of life. He will dedicate his time to enhancing the pillars of justice, and to the service of all citizens without any discrimination. He asked people to assist him in shouldering responsibility and to provide him with advice. Additionally, Crown Prince Sultan assured the nation that the Kingdom would continue its progress under King Abdullah’s rule."
"A Pledge to Renew Unity"
Jeddah’s conservative Al-Nadwa editorialized (8/4): "All Saudis feel sorrow for the death of King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz, but they feel that the path will continue as strong as it was, and the Kingdom will continue to support its friends and brothers. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, with his extensive experience, will further enhance the country’s potential, and will support all Arab and Islamic causes."
The pro-government English-language Arab News maintained (8/3): "The death of King Fahd and the accession of King Abdullah will mean one thing only. It will mean continuity. The succession has been a seamless transition, as those who genuinely understand Saudi Arabia knew it would. But as to policy, there is no transition. All remains the same. The Kingdom’s oil policy--ensuring market stability--stands unchanged; the Kingdom’s plans to create jobs, its policy of Saudization, stand unchanged; the Kingdom’s dedication to ensuring a just peace for the Palestinians (and ultimately for the Israelis), its dedication to peace and stability in Lebanon, in Sudan, in Iraq--all stand unchanged. Its determination to crush terrorism and eradicate religious deviancy stands unchanged.... The Kingdom is assured continuity--and through continuity, stability; and with stability, growth."
"Stability And Continuity Of The Kingdom’s Policy"
Jeddah's moderate Okaz editorialized:(8/3): "The world knows that the policies of the Saudi leadership are the most stable and constant.... The world understands that the basic polices of the Kingdom will not change. Likewise, there will be no change in the Kingdom’s principles and values. Therefore, it will not witness drastic changes, like some countries when leadership is changed or ruling regimes are replaced. Saudi Arabia is an institutional state. Its policies, plans, and relations with other countries of the world are based on firm principles."
"Loss Of A Visionary"
The pro-government English-language Saudi Gazette maintained (8/2): "King Fahd, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, was a leader among leaders, a doyen of statesmen, a pillar of strength for his countrymen and a source of inspiration.... He meticulously balanced the Kingdom's place as the fountainhead of Islam and its responsibilities as a major power in the Mideast.... The first major challenge for him came when the oil market slumped to $10 a barrel in 1998. He not only successfully managed the crisis but set out on a course of economic diversification, curtailing dependence on oil. To attain this goal, he pursued the educational and training programs he had launched as education minister.... King Fahd was an international figure who played a major role in regional and global politics. Seeking justice for the just rights of the Palestinian people and the unity of Arab countries have been the core of his foreign policy.... It was his statesmanship that helped end the 15 years of Lebanese civil war.... He was bold when it came to reforms within the boundaries of Shariah. He was bolder when some deviants tried to malign the name of Islam and the Kingdom. His iron-fist policy ably pursued by Crown Prince Abdullah has broken the backbone of the terror network. Crown Prince Abdullah, who succeeds King Fahad, has shown his resolve to pursue the policies of his predecessor. He takes over the reins of a country whose economy has a budget surplus of $26 billion, where Shariah-guided reforms have opened up new avenues, which is not just a map on a global atlas but a major and respected power."
The pro-government English-language Arab News opined (8/2): "In the death of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd, it is not just Saudi Arabia that suffers a grievous loss. The loss of the Middle East region and the wider Muslim world is equally grievous. His death removes from the scene a man of vision whose commitment to Arab and Islamic unity was total.... The role the Kingdom played in pushing the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan is well- known. The next challenge, more serious than any, was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. While a shocked Middle East stood uncertain...it was Fahd who acted as the central point of the coalition brought together by the U.S. While it was President George Bush Sr. who led the coalition, it was the Kingdom’s stand that rallied most of the Arab and Muslim world under one flag. The disappointment he carried to his grave was that he could not find a solution to the most vexing of all the Arab problems--the Palestinian tragedy.... His resolve to use all means at the Kingdom’s disposal to further the cause of peace and unity was not confined to Palestine or the Middle East. It went beyond regional borders--to Afghanistan, Sudan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, Indonesia and so on. For a person so committed to peace, it was a cruel blow to be blamed by the crowd of 'instant experts' for the mindless violence that is now stalking the world. Those who accuse the Kingdom of breeding terrorists because most of those involved in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis and because Osama Bin Laden was Saudi-born are ignorant of the fact that the Kingdom is the primary target of the terrorists and that it has suffered more attacks than any other country.... The best tribute that the world--the Arab and Muslim part of it in particular--can pay Fahd the man is to work for the cause he loved so much: Just peace for all."
JORDAN: "In Tribute"
The English-language elite Jordan Times editorialized (8/2): "The Arab, and indeed the Muslim, world was shocked by the death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia yesterday. His passing is sad, of course, but by no means sudden.... His stature in the world attests to the significant role Saudi Arabia has been playing in regional and international affairs. Recently Saudi Arabia has been under attack either for failing to keep pace with advancing political and social progress taking root elsewhere in the world, or for allowing an archaic situation to become a suitable climate for intensified fanaticism.... The smooth, and, quite orderly, transfer of authority to King Abdullah is a very reassuring sign of the strength of Saudi royal family tradition that functions perfectly in similar occasions. The passing of King Fahd will certainly leave a remarkable vacuum in the political arena of the region.... Saudi Arabia has not been a significant player in world politics simply because of its wealth. Its moderate, wise and respected leadership generated useful leverage with many world powers.... Reform, on the other hand is desperately required, and the new generation of leaders in Riyadh should keep that at the top of their priorities. Yet pushing for hasty and uncalculated measures to satisfy urgent political needs elsewhere will be counterproductive and dangerous.... No abandoning of existing structure should be tolerated before securing better alternatives."
LEBANON: "New Saudi King's Experience Will Serve Him--And The Region--Well"
The moderate English-language Daily Star declared (8/4): "The ascension of King Abdullah to the throne has cast an international spotlight on Saudi Arabia and the future challenges that the kingdom's new leadership will need to confront. But having served as the de facto ruler of the country for the last several years, King Abdullah already has a number of considerable achievements under his belt. At the domestic level, he has pushed ahead with his reform agenda, despite resistance from conservatives and traditionalists.... During his unofficial reign, King Abdullah has also left a mark on the international scene.... It is also evident from the subtle changes in U.S. policies in the region since Abdullah's last visit to the U.S. that the Saudi monarch has considerable influence with the White House. As King Abdullah assumes the throne, there are a number of considerable challenges facing him. Despite his drive to promote democratic progress in Saudi Arabia, there is still a need for vast reform in the kingdom. His ascension to the throne also coincides with a critical time in the region's history.... In confronting these challenges, King Abdullah has an advantage like no one else in the region. Not only does he already have considerable experience with domestic and international issues, he also has the reputation for his ability to balance the need for reform with the need to maintain a sense of cultural authenticity. While he is widely known to be reform-minded, he has a reputation for having his feet firmly planted in Saudi and Arab traditions. This ability to straddle East and West gives him considerable clout and credibility in both the Arab and Western worlds. This clout, together with his willingness to forge ahead in rocky waters, should enable him to confront the many challenges that are facing him."
"A King For A Message For Peace"
Ghassan Tueni concluded in moderate, anti-Syrian An-Nahar (8/2): “Before he became King, Prince Fahd was like a mythical King that Lebanon sought whenever there was a crisis during the seventies. The Lebanese asked him to be the arbitrator between Lebanon and the Palestinians, and between Lebanon and the Syrians.... Fahd’s kingdom was always a deterrent force: It deterred Lebanon from reaching bankruptcy, and it deterred division among Lebanese.... As for the Ta’if Summit, Fahd made it his personal business by trying to break all obstacles. He personally talked to many Lebanese officials. What started as Fahd’s peace initiative...ended by the Ta’if Accord.... The King died, the King lives.”
"The Guard Of Roots And The Maker Of Growth"
Ghassan Charbel commented in pan-Arab Saudi-owned Al-Hayat (8/2): "Extraordinary leaders receive many medals...however, there are very few leaders who receive the most difficult medal...which is people’s love.... Fahd Bin-Abdel-Aziz was one of these rare leaders who won people’s love and appreciation.... Those who know and understand the Saudi people know that every Saudi thought of Fahd Bin-Abdel-Aziz as a King father, a King brother, and a King friend.... King Fahd was aware of his deep roots...for this reason he guarded these roots, but he also opened his windows for progress...King Fahd wanted to be an achiever. His name was linked to mega-economic steps. His name was also linked to political turning points that helped in the stability of Saudi Arabia.... Fahd Bin-Abdel-Aziz has died, but he will continue to be present among us.”
"King Fahd Leaves Legacy Of Modernized Saudi Arabia To Abdullah"
The moderate English-language Daily Star held (8/2): "The process of modernization in the kingdom has proven both extremely successful and excruciatingly painful. It was King Fahd who was chosen to guide his kingdom through this most turbulent era of transition in its history. By the time Fahd assumed power in 1982, Saudi Arabia, the home of a quarter of the world's oil resources, had become a life source for the world by providing it with the oil necessary to support a hi-tech existence.... Determined to set his kingdom on the path toward economic development and diversification, he oversaw the channelling of oil money into development plans designed to improve education and health. He was also a driving force behind promoting education for women, though many in the conservative kingdom resisted this effort. King Fahd officially announced the start of political reforms in 1992 and his agenda has helped advance the kingdom's economic and political liberalization.... Because of Fahd's efforts to build a bridge to modernity and lay the foundations for reform, the people of Saudi Arabia have developed into an accomplished and experienced society.... King Abdullah...has also been a major force behind the kingdom's reform drive.... It will no doubt prove a daunting challenge for King Abdullah to drive the divergent forces of Saudi society. But Abdullah is highly suited for the task. While Abdullah has a reform-minded agenda, his feet are firmly planted in the traditions of Saudi Arabia.... Furthermore, the task will be easier because King Fahd has already built a bridge to modernity. King Abdullah will no doubt ensure that his people find safe passage across it."
QATAR: "Saudis Have Much To Thank King Fahd For"
The semi-official English-language Gulf Times stated (8/2): "Qatar joined other Arab states yesterday in mourning the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd.... The world watched and wondered what effect the king’s death would have on the world’s leading oil producer. It was soon reassured by the news of a smooth transition of power to the Crown Prince, now King Abdullah.... The unfortunate illness of the late king, which spanned a decade, has resulted in the transfer of power being more a matter of form than a major political change.... King Fahd’s success was not a consequence of chance. He had the wisdom to recognise the importance of establishing good relations with the Western powers. The path of moderation that he embarked on was followed throughout his reign and there is no doubt that it will be continued for the foreseeable future.... Today, internal security forces appear to have largely eliminated rogue elements, while economically Saudi Arabia has started to enjoy the benefits of a new boom. The fact that Saudis can look forward to a bright future is largely due to the efforts of their departed monarch."
UAE: "End Of An Era"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf Today held (8/2): "The demise of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has brought to an end an era of great Arab leaders who laid the foundations of development in the Middle East.... Fahd's death will be a great loss not only to Saudi Arabia but also to the entire Arab World.... He is leaving behind a sound legacy of reforms based on changing realities that his successor King Abdullah has vowed to continue.... Oil has given Saudi leadership an international role to play and Fahd handled it efficiently during some of the most volatile times for the region.... Fahd led the transformation of a desert country into a global economic powerhouse, bringing modernity to the country.... However, Fahd's most important role as the leader of the Saudi society was his contribution to spreading education among children and women even in remote desert villages.... The baton of leadership is changing hands in Saudi Arabia at a time when the Middle East is passing though turbulent times. King Abdullah's policies will have repercussions all over the Middle East. He has the solid foundations laid by Fahd to carry on the drive to more dramatic developments on all fronts."
"Courageous King With A Vision"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Gulf News declared (8/2): "The world yesterday lost one of its outstanding leaders. King Fahd passed away at a time when his leadership and vision are extremely needed. However, he left his countrymen and women a stable forward-looking country.... Occupied with the modernisation of his vast county, King Fahd never lost sight of his role as a Gulf and Arab leader.... King Fahd's real legacy lies in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. He maintained stability in the vast kingdom through two decades of regional turbulence, balancing Islamic traditions with the need to modernise. He opened the door to political reforms, albeit limited.... Mourning Saudis look to the future with hope and confidence as Crown Prince Abdullah takes the helm. He is expected to follow in the steps of his late brother on the path of reforms. Abdullah has over the past few years, in his capacity as the King's deputy, responded to calls for political participation by initiating a process of reform, but a cautious one.... He also pledged to fight the extremists who claim to represent the moderate majority. Under his leadership, the kingdom has become a strategic partner in the international campaign against terrorism. Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the world, may have lost in King Fahd's sad demise a leading statesman yesterday. But they surely gained a new leader with the vision and the will to lead the country in these critical times."
"An Enduring Legacy"
The expatriate-oriented English-language Khaleej Times declared (8/2): "With the passing away of King Fahd...a curtain has come down on an era that was truly remarkable for the breathtaking progress and prosperity the kingdom witnessed.... While continuing the complex task of nation building started by his predecessors, King Fahd focused on making Saudi Arabia...a modern, developed, prosperous and economically powerful country that plays an important role on the world stage.... More importantly, under Fahd, the kingdom made a conscious attempt to reduce its crucial dependence on oil-based economy by massively diversifying into other sectors.... Fahd also took his position as the leader of a nation that is seen as the leader of Arab and Muslim world very seriously. Under Fahd, Saudi Arabia has tenaciously championed the Arab and Muslim causes. It was under Fahd that the country stood up for the oppressed Palestinians, Afghans, Kuwaitis, Bosnians, Kosovars, Somalians and all those who have been wronged.... It’s because of this leading role that Saudi Arabia has played over the decades in the Muslim world and on the world stage that its voice is respected today. The late Saudi king will be remembered as a leader who largely succeeded in realising the goals he set for himself and for his people without compromising on the kingdom’s ideological position and principles. He has left behind a formidable and enduring legacy that will continue to guide and help his people and able successor in the challenging years to come."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
AUSTRALIA: "Change Of Guard In House Of Saud"
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald observed (8/4): "The seamless transition of power from Saudi Arabia's octogenarian King Fahd...to his half-brother, the former Crown Prince Abdullah, who is about 80, is one of the least surprising news stories of the year. After all, the now King Abdullah had been effectively running the country since 1995 when the old monarch was incapacitated by a stroke. Yet his formal accession could mark the beginning of challenging times, with social, economic and security implications not just for Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, but also for the Middle East and the Western industrialized nations. Actuarial logic suggests that King Abdullah's reign is unlikely to be lengthy and this in itself is an unsettling factor. After decades of relative stability, Saudi Arabia may be entering an era of prolonged uncertainty.... King Abdullah has in the past shown reformist tendencies. The question that the Bush Administration, and its allies, are asking now is whether he will use his new authority, and increased revenues from oil, to move more decisively to introduce democratic change, to curb the baleful influence of radical Wahhabi clerics, and to rein in the corruption and extravagance of the royal family. Yet in pushing for overdue reforms, Washington needs to be cautious.... It will not be astonishing if King Abdullah decides, along with any internal reforms, to reassure his restive people by being a little less accommodating to US interests.”
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Saudi Political Situation Is Still Risky"
Independent Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily News said (8/2): "Immediately after the death of Saudi Arabian King Fahd, international gold and oil prices skyrocketed. It shows that investors are very concerned about the situation in the Middle East. After the smooth transfer of power in Saudi Arabia and the guarantee of a consistent oil policy, the price of oil has returned to normal. However, people should keep an eye on whether the potential discontent among the people will take advantage of the transfer of power to request reforms and if terrorist groups will seize the opportunity to create troubles to cripple the new King of Saudi Arabia."
THAILAND: "New Saudi King Will Need To Tread Carefully"
Don Pathan observed in the independent, English-language Nation (8/3): "For years, the ruling family has been in denial, dismissing suggestions that radical elements were in the making. But the terrorist attacks on the kingdom’s soil these past couple of years may be a blessing in disguise.... Abdullah has warned that anyone who tries to justify these crimes in the name of religion would be considered a “full partner of the terrorists and will share their fate”. But getting to the heart of the problem will require more than just making a few arrests.... Carrot-and-stick tactics were employed to keep the conservatives in their place, although the arrangement was lopsided, leaning more towards the carrot. After all, there was plenty of money to go around. And in return for the Saud family’s generosity, it had to be understood that the regime’s absolute rule must prevail. How far the newly appointed King Abdullah will go in weeding out radical elements in his conservative kingdom remains to be seen. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that Abdullah cannot have his kebab and eat it, too.”
INDIA: "The King And Kinship"
An editorial in the nationalist Hindustan Times read (8/3): "The death of King Fahd comes at a time when the dynasty that has ruled Saudi Arabia since Abdul Aziz al-Saud founded it faces immense problems. Not the least of which is Saudi Arabia's dependence for leadership on a generation of ageing brothers and half-brothers who are perennially cautious about politics.... Fahd has left behind a mixed legacy. Despite the excesses of the Saudi royal family and the lack of reform during his reign, Fahd can be credited with the massive economic development of Saudi Arabia and for keeping the kingdom stable in an increasingly turbulent period.... Fahd changed the face of geopolitics in the region when, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he took the momentous decision to allow US forces to be based in Saudi Arabia. The immediate task for King Abdullah now would be to continue the crackdown on Islamist militancy. For only by building up democratic forces in the kingdom could he hope to counter the threat from al-Qaeda. Only then could the king tackle other pressing problems like creating jobs for thousands of restless youth and carry out meaningful reforms in the kingdom.”
PAKISTAN: "Task Ahead For New King"
The center-right national English-language Nation opined (8/2): "A formidable task for the King would be to remove impediments that prevent educated Saudis from entering the job market. At present, one-third of the population is estimated to be unemployed. The process of privatization he has set afoot, and the permission for foreign investment he has granted, would help Saudi nationals to get more jobs. Saudi Arabia has strong suspicions about U.S. designs on Iraq and on resources in the entire region. It eagerly awaits the aggression to end and peace to return with terms favorable to Arabs. While the clash between the U.S. and Saudi views on almost all issues seems susceptible to some sort of a compromise, the Palestine problem would most likely stand in the way of a thoroughgoing mutual understanding. Nevertheless, ties with Washington would remain the cornerstone of Riyadh's policies. The Saudi stand on the Palestine issue would be crucial. From King Abdullah one can legitimately expect that he will continue to insist on a solution that is just and takes care of Palestinian concerns."
"A Great Friend"
An editorial in the center-right national English-language Nation read (8/1): "With the passing away of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia on August 1 at the age of 82, Pakistan has lost a great friend and the world a monarch whose influence was felt much beyond the confines of Muslim countries.... King Fahd’s reign will be remembered for his efforts to modernize the kingdom in a manner that did not offend tribal tradition or the dictates of Islam.... Pakistan counts Saudi Arabia as one of its closest friends. Both see eye to eye with each other on major regional and international issues, including Palestine and Kashmir. It was King Fahd’s personal efforts that led the OIC to pass a resolution fully supporting our stand on Kashmir. The Kingdom has come to Pakistan’s help, like supplying it oil, whenever called upon to do so.... Leaderships on both sides have invariably developed personal rapport. As our leaders are on very good terms with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, the two countries can look forward to deeper cooperation in all spheres of interest to them."
"Saudi King Fahd's Sad Demise"
Independent Urdu-language Din noted (8/2): "Among the royal family, Shah Fahd was considered to be a 'friend of the U.S.' He was also considered to be quite western in his ways. The conservative members of the royal family did not view this positively.... It goes without saying that King Fahd was a great friend of Pakistan and relations between the two countries improved during his tenure. We express grief at the sad demise of King Fahd, but at the same time congratulate King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz on assumption of his new responsibilities."
"The Outlook After Fahd"
Karachi-based center-left independent national English-language Dawn remarked (8/1): "After Fahd, the task of leading Saudi Arabia now devolves on his half- brother, Abdullah, who has practically been the ruler since Fahd suffered a stroke a decade ago. King Abdullah’s task will be to continue the reforms while, at the same time, making greater effort to mobilize the resources of the Arab world for the benefit of the Arab people. In spite of having immense oil wealth, Arab rulers have failed to act in unison. They are mere spectators to the shedding of Arab blood in Palestine and Iraq and are often seen as collaborators of foreign powers. The events of 9/11 and the war on terror have drawn Saudi Arabia also in the vortex of terrorism, and created a new threat of extremism within the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is expected to play a greater role in ending the human tragedy in Iraq and Afghanistan and in finding a solution to the Palestinian and Kashmiri problems which have been a source of major unrest in the Muslim world."
NIGERIA: "Challenges Before The New King"
The respected Lagos-based independent Guardian opined (8/4): "Fahd's succession by King Abdullah who had been in charge of the kingdom for about a decade conveys an impression of stability, and it is noteworthy that the new King has promised that there would be no changes in the Kingdom's oil policy. But there are long-term challenges to be considered, not just by King Abdullah but the House of Saud. These include the continuing threat of al-Qaeda terrorism, the need to create more jobs, and dealing with conflicts in the Middle East, and the likely implications of the emergence of an ultra-conservative leader in Iran. King Abdullah would have to respond to the menace pose by militants who have attacked Saudi Arabia in recent times and are threatening to displace the monarchy. Under King Fahd, there was much repression, King Abdullah must quicken the process of reform, with special focus on human rights, especially the rights of women, integrity and accountability in the governance process, liberalization and internal security."
"Policy Shift In The Making"
The Lagos-based independent Comet maintained (8/4): "Unlike the late Fahd however, the new King Abdullah has been pushing a campaign against extremist religious teaching and preaching. He supervised the crackdown on Islamic militants, and early this year, introduced the municipal polls, the country's first ever elections. It is also on record that the new monarch was against Saudi Arabia's close ties with the U.S., especially her dependence on American military. It is against this background that observers expect some measures of policy shift under his full reign. With the exit of King Fahd and the emergence of Abdullah, Saudi Arabia now faces the task of liberalizing its oil-dependent but ailing economy. There is also the challenge of satisfying the desires of the citizens for more freedom and greater participation in partisan politics. Also, the new administration under Abdullah cannot afford to relent in taming the disruptive radical religious fundamentalists, so that the world can become safer and more peaceful."
CANADA: "Host Of Challenges For New Saudi King"
The liberal Toronto Star opined (8/3): "Change has historically come slowly to the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But the country's new king, Abdullah, will face intense pressure in the coming weeks and months to move quickly on urgent issues ranging from democratic reforms to growing Islamic extremism in the oil-rich nation.... Few experts expect major change in foreign policy because Abdullah, the former king's half-brother, has been effectively in charge of the kingdom since 1995 when Fahd suffered a stroke. Although he has more Arab nationalistic leanings than Fahd, Abdullah will likely try to solidify Saudi Arabia's ties with the West, and the Bush administration in particular. During his reign, Fahd moved the kingdom closer to the United States. But his decision to let U.S. troops use Saudi soil as a base after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 angered many conservatives in the country and is blamed for contributing to the rise of Islamic extremism in the country. Relations with Washington cooled dramatically after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. In the eyes of the Bush administration, Abdullah has failed to deal effectively with Islamic extremists and terror.... Also, it financed many of the Saudi militants who went to Afghanistan to fight against Soviet occupiers.... Besides dealing with militants and terrorism, Abdullah must also address growing demands from within the country for more democratic reforms. The country is an absolute monarchy. Members of the royal family live in boundless wealth, and their primary goal is their own survival. Recognizing the need to change, albeit slightly, Abdullah has pushed for political reforms, including limited direct elections earlier this year for local councils. Hopefully he will continue to urge wider elections, especially for a national assembly, in which women will be allowed to vote. Currently, women have no rights. They cannot vote; they cannot drive; they cannot sign legal documents on their own. At the same time, the king must address a slowing economy, rising unemployment and pressure for more government accountability. Unless King Abdullah acts quickly on these urgent issues, he will face more internal dissent than his late brother ever imagined."
"New King, Old Doubts"
The centrist Winnipeg Free Press commented (8/3): “The Saudi kingdom is beholden to the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Whether the king is from the older generation, as is King Abdullah, or from a younger one, that is unlikely to change. What is certain is that after King Abdullah there will be a shift of seismic proportions that will affect not only the Middle East but Canada and the West as well. A royal transition that was long anticipated--a transition which, in fact, actually had occurred long ago in every practical way--sent the price of oil up by two dollars, Canadian. A generational transition, particularly if it comes soon, will far more dramatically affect Canadians, not only at the gas pumps, but more seriously in their relations with the Arab world and Islamic terrorists. “
"Saudi Arabia's New King"
The conservative National Post editorialized (8/2): "During his regency, King Abdullah made gestures toward fighting corruption within the Saudi royal family, proposed an Israeli-Arab peace accord that proved to be a non-starter, and dabbled with democracy at the local government level. Even these modest gestures toward modernity were rebuffed, however, by the fundamental conservatism of his royal relatives. It would be nice to believe that with his assumption of the throne, King Abdullah's hand will be strengthened. But this seems an unreasonable expectation. The choice of Defence Minister Prince Sultan, 77, as his own successor is already being seen as evidence that, in his twilight years, King Abdullah is unlikely to successfully implement anything resembling a serious reform agenda. Instead, the best that can be hoped for is that the new king will rule long enough to stave off the threat posed by another of his half-brothers, Prince Nayef, the Saudi Interior Minister. Prince Nayef controls the Saudi secret and religious police, and is an anti-Western bigot who once suggested that 'Zionists' were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even better would be to bring firmly into the line of succession a Western-educated, reformist prince from the next generation, one with the authority and courage to transform the kingdom into a humane democracy. Assuming, of course, that such a person exists."
ARGENTINA: "A Handover That Does Not Clarify The Future Of The Kingdom"
Oscar Raul Cardoso stated in leading Clarin (8/2): "To the relief of the big Western capital cities, Saudi Arabia's royal family...proceeded to enthrone the main reformer, Abdullah ben Abdul Aziz, after the death of his brother Fahd. In this way, a quick and smooth process...allowed for a slight decline in oil price predictions. This does not mean that there was no concern. After the death of King Fahd was made public, the oil price went above $61 per barrel. The royal family knows that it cannot afford a prolonged uncertainty about the stability of the government of the main oil producing country in the world.... And this does not mean either that Abdullah's enthronement has cleared the main questions on Saudi Arabia's future.... If King Fahd always sought to follow the beats of Washington's music...Abdullah appears now as a more reflexive 'pro-West' leader.... This may not be a serious problem, but the concrete historic framework is. The kingdom is no longer the Arabian Nights' illusion of prosperity created by oil. Its welfare is succumbing under its own weight, and religious and political tensions could turn the Saudi kingdom's legitimacy into a sandcastle.... Saudi Arabia is soaked by the Wahabbist extreme theology.... The Wahhabi rigor is a guarantee of control for the royal family and, at the same time, a mid-term threat if its legitimacy tumbles."
CHILE: "The Importance Of A Stable Saudi Arabia"
Conservative, independent La Tercera argued (8/3): "Saudi Arabia’s stability has repercussions in the Middle East and worldwide. It supplies 25% of the world’s oil and has the planet’s largest reserves. This alone makes Saudi Arabia’s stability a shared international goal.... It is also the home of Islam’s two main symbols, the cities of Medina and Mecca.... Today, its closeness to the U.S. has given rise to terrorist groups...whose goal is to overthrow the Saudi government for dealing with ‘infidels’--a source of inspiration for Al Qaeda, headed by Saudi Osama bin Laden. Although Saudi Arabia has been formally at war with Israel since 1948, it is not among the countries that have promoted terrorism against the Jewish nation, which has had a moderating effect...in the Muslim world. Its role was also crucial in containing the expansion of Iran’s Islamic revolution in the ’80s and in limiting Saddam Hussein’s aggressive policies. There are no guarantees that royal family members will not engage in a power struggle.... Plus, the country is under the pressure of a demographic explosion and poor macroeconomic figures...putting it at a historic crossroads.”
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