Long live the king, the questionably socially liberal and undoubtedly economically progressive king. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died on Jan. 23 following three weeks of hospitalization for pneumonia. Abdullah’s death came a decade after ascending to the throne. He was 90 years old.
According to a Jan. 23 CNN article, Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in fighting ISIS, the Sunni terror group which has taken hold of a large part of both Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia is a country that has been between a rock and a hard place at least since 9/11 and the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lying in the middle of the chaos which Islamic terrorism ensues leaves them to be one of our most valuable allies. Of the 19 terrorists that carried out the 9/11 attacks, 15 were Saudi Arabian citizens. This led to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to bolster Saudi military by $150 billion dollars in order to fight terrorism within the country.
King Abdullah pushed for progression of his country, a motive that was limited by Saudi culture. For the first time this year women will be able to vote and be elected for municipal positions. It’s great progress for a country where women are still not able to drive. It’s great progress for a country where women are not allowed to leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts without permission from their father or husband. Abdullah has been the power behind modernization of the country pertaining to education and the economy. In fact his efforts led to Saudi Arabia joining the World Trade Organization in 2005, integrating the country into the global economy and recognizing a need to diversify the country’s economy beyond it being supported by oil alone.
It would be asinine to suggest that Saudi Arabia’s citizens have rights at all similar to those enjoyed by men and women within the U.S. or other democratic nations. Saudi Arabia is still an absolute monarchy. It would be asinine to suggest that a tyrant such as Abdullah was a saint. But to say that King Abdullah’s death will not hinder their efforts to keep fighting the only terrorist group to rival al-Qaida would be a mistake. In order for safety in the U.S. as well as combatting ISIS, a strong ally in the area such as Saudi Arabia is necessary. The lack of liberty Saudi Arabia’s citizens have is appalling. Unfortunately, whether their freedoms are limited or not it is a necessary evil.
The question that remains: When King Salman ascends to the throne, will he truly keep on track with the efforts begun by his predecessor? A Jan. 23 New York Times article claimed that Salman will not only inherit the throne but the policies that Abdullah put in place over the past decade. However Salman is far less assertive than his brother, Abdullah. American relations with Saudi Arabia has weakened with President Barack Obama’s presidency. Will this continue with Salman?
The royal Saudi family has been skeptical over President Obama’s efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear program, as well as American effort to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It’s clear that while President Obama remains in the White House friction will still remain between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The hope though is that the previous far sturdier relations will endure through Salman’s ascending to the throne.
If Salman is anywhere near as strong-willed as his brother, relations will only improve when U.S. voters elect another Republican president, given how conservative Saudi Arabia is. (Even our right leans further left than than their left.)
Whether or not Salman will continue to take steps toward his country’s modernization will hinge on his ability to combat the more radical elected leaders whom he stands above in the country.