Reformer in the House of Saud; Abdullah's First 100 Days Prove Transformational

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

Reformer in the House of Saud; Abdullah's First 100 Days Prove Transformational


Byline: S. Rob Sobhani, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The first 100 days of King Abdullah's rule has been remarkable because of the alacrity with which he has instituted reform measures. This popular and pious monarch is turning out to be the first genuine reformer in Saudi Arabia's history. Since taking over officially from his brother, the late King Fahd, King Abdullah has embarked on a mission of statecraft designed to transform the institutions and partnerships of Saudi Arabia.

Unlike some within the House of Saud, King Abdullah has demonstrated a willingness to address the challenges facing Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East, including: the poison of Islamist extremism; winning back the trust of the faithful; fighting corruption so as to create employment opportunities for the young population; Islamist Iran's influence in Shi'a-dominated Iraq; integration of Saudi Arabia into the world economy; protection of the world's largest oil reserves from the threat of terrorism; and promoting a new generation of leaders for the 21st century.

The United States has an enormous stake in the success of King Abdullah's new statecraft, and it must support this popular leader through quiet diplomacy. Unfortunately, there are those in Washington who believe that Saudi Arabia is doing too little too late. The propagation of this perception is extremely dangerous because, to the extent that Washington distances itself from the king and his nascent efforts to reform the institutions and foreign affairs of Saudi Arabia, it plays into the hands of both Riyadh's and Washington's enemy terrorists, like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Although the new king remains cautious, wanting to avoid an open confrontation with the religious establishment, by his actions these first 100 days King Abdullah has breathed new life into the body politic of the world's largest oil producer and most important anchor of global energy security.

For example, consideration of Saudi Arabia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) was frozen until King Abdullah took power. Riyadh has now agreed to end all economic boycotts and pledged to refrain from implementing discriminatory trade sanctions, thus allowing the WTO to admit Saudi Arabia as its 149th member. King Abdullah understands that entry into the WTO and economic reform go hand in hand. Therefore, most restrictions on foreign investment in banking, insurance, telecommunications and other service industries have been removed, thus opening the door to one of the largest free-market economies in the world. …

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