King Abdullah: ‘Reformer, peacemaker’

| October 26, 2011 | 0 Comments


Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz at an official dinner at the G20 Summit in Toronto.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz at an official dinner at the G20 Summit in Toronto.

In a nebulous environment where culture and tradition are intertwined with Islamic religious beliefs on one hand and modernity flooding through an era of globalization on the other, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has made a clear mark by balancing continuity of traditional values, upholding the noble teachings of Islam and introducing widespread reform in a manner that has captured the hearts and minds of his people. His reform initiatives, along with his tireless efforts to achieve peace in the region, supporting human rights and introducing a culture characterized by open and transparent dialogue, ranked him as the third most powerful man in the world, according to the leading American business magazine, Forbes. But to get to know King Abdullah is to understand that he does not seek power; rather his sincere efforts are to shoulder the responsibilities in order to have a secure, moderate, sustainable and functional society, locally and regionally.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and reform
Newsweek published a Top-10 list of the most respected leaders around the world in August 2010 and King Abdullah was featured on that list as a “reformer.” When asked about his initiatives, King Abdullah explained that the reform project in the Kingdom began with the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman, who laid the foundation and the framework for a modern state. It is a little known fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was an un-unified region that consisted of tribal forces and rulers. The Saud family founded the Kingdom by unifying the region through establishing a new political, social, and structural society while preserving the basic principles and policies recognized by the people of that region. The founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman, adopted the values, traditions and customs of the people in return for their allegiance to the new unified state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom continues to respect that mutual understanding and works in uniformity with its people towards achieving a government that is based on the pure principles of Islam, while preserving Arab values and introducing gradual changes that respect the Saudi heritage. These changes are to place Saudi Arabia as a leading player in the global market.
The daunting task of reform was started by King Abdullah before he was crowned King. Even as crown prince, he realized that the challenge of change is a balance that needs to preserve deep traditions yet make gradual grassroots and lasting transformation.
The introduction of Saudi municipal elections in 2005 was the first sign of that gradual change, and as crown prince at that time, he monitored very closely the process of election for the country’s municipal councils.
Economically, his most notable achievements can be marked by the billions of dollars spent on social welfare development projects in the Kingdom, the launch of four mega economic cities, as well as developing strong policy institutions such as the Supreme Economic Council. He also held a number of important international summits and meetings in the Kingdom to encourage constructive global cooperation. In June 2008, he hosted the Jeddah energy summit to discuss ways of stabilizing global oil markets.
King Abdullah heralded a new era of judicial reform by announcing an overhaul of the legal system. This included new regulated responsibilities for the courts, establishing a board of grievances (administrative judiciary), approving new laws to combat human trafficking, ratifying new labour laws, establishing the code of law practice and introducing criminal procedure law in the Saudi legal system.
His primary focus was on education and implementing a plan that would showcase the intellectual achievements of Saudi citizens nationally and internationally.
As a result, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched a pilot project in 2005-2006 under the direction of King Abdullah geared towards curriculum reform and teacher retraining that spanned up to six years and cost nine billion Saudi Riyals ($2.3 billion). The program was designed to promote religious tolerance and balance, and to build a modern state.
King Abdullah launched a multi-phased international scholarship program that has reached 120,000 Saudi students, 40,000 of whom are studying in the United States and almost 15,000 in Canada. The Kingdom has spent billions of dollars on training Saudi students abroad. The program covers all expenses for Saudi undergraduate, graduate and medical students in universities around the world with the goal to produce a generation of students who are achievers and innovators.
The international scholarship program provides Saudi students with the opportunity to learn and be immersed in other cultures during the course of their studies. This exchange not only endorses the freedom to make academic choices but also allows for new ideas and methods to be adopted and translated into a reality that works for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Empowering Saudi women continues to be a fundamental priority for King Abdullah through opening up all fields of education and giving women equal opportunities. In 2009, King Abdullah appointed the first female minister in the Kingdom, Dr. Norah Al Fayez as deputy minister in Saudi Arabia for women’s education. His most remarkable achievements in this area are the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, for women, and King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, which is open to women and men.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is proud to showcase the excellence and achievements of Saudi women under King Abdullah’s leadership. The opportunities given to the Saudi women have guaranteed them fundamental political and social roles in Saudi society.
To name a few of the women achievers in Saudi Arabia, amongst many:
• HRH Princess Adela bint Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who received a distinct arab woman award in 2008 for her support of women and humanitarian causes;
• Dr. Salwa Al-Hazzaa, whose name appeared amongst the Marquis List for most prominent people in the world and who was named the international woman of the year by the biographical center in Cambridge, Britain;
• Dr. Ayda Al-Aqeel, who  received the world distinguished medical researcher award in the field of hereditary diseases in Japan;
• Lubna Al-Olayyan, who was listed by Forbes as being among the 100 most powerful women in the world in 2005-2006;
• Dr. Hayat Sindi, a Saudi researcher at Harvard University, who was ranked by the American Organization of Pop Tech as among the top 15 scientists in the world.
On the issue of human rights, King Abdullah established the Human Rights Commission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2005. Its governance is under the direct supervision of King Abdullah. It is an independent commission founded to protect and strengthen human rights according to standards that are applied internationally and are cohesive to the teachings of Islam. The commission’s efforts are focused also on promoting the culture and knowledge on human rights in the country.
King Abdullah also approved the project to establish a National Society for Human Rights. This private society includes 41 members, 10 of whom are women. It is an independent body that is not controlled or supervised by any government institution, and its mandate is the well-being of all citizens, residents and visitors.

This view of the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, shows the Kingdom Centre, also known as Al Mamlika Tower, which is the tallest skyscraper in the country.

This view of the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, shows the Kingdom Centre, also known as Al Mamlika Tower, which is the tallest skyscraper in the country.

King Abdullah and peace
King Abdullah continues to use his influence to curtail conflicts that threaten the region; his efforts have re-established Saudi Arabia as a force that promotes peace, tolerance, stability and prosperity.
In March 2002, at the Arab Summit in Beirut, then Crown Prince Abdullah introduced a peace initiative that offers comprehensive solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The King Abdullah Peace Initiative offers official recognition and the establishment of normal relations between Israel and the 22 nations of the Arab League while calling for full Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied since 1967, and implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
His efforts to promote peace in the region also include: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Darfur and Yemen.

King Abdullah and dialogue
In his continuous efforts to promote tolerance, King Abdullah introduced a unique culture of dialogue that called for open and transparent exchange of ideas, thoughts and beliefs by establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue. The centre promotes open and honest discussions about various topics and subjects ranging from religion, terrorism, women’s role in society to educational reform. Its goal is to spread a culture of dialogue and give equal opportunity to men and women in Saudi society.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the direction of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, held the third extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2005 (OIC) in Makkah (Mecca). The King denounced extremism and called for unity and tolerance in the Muslim world to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Following the Makkah conference, King Abdullah met with Pope Benedict XVI, the first meeting between a Saudi King and the leader of the Catholic Church.
King Abdullah also convened the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid from July 16-18, 2008. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques emphasized that for this meeting to succeed, the participants needed to focus on the commonalities that unite us as people, “namely, the deep faith in God, noble principle and lofty moral values which constitute the essence of religion.”
King Abdullah’s vision encompasses the global reality of the era in which we live, through which all cultural, economic, religious, and political borders are overlapping and perhaps even, as some would argue, fading away. We live in a world where ideas and concepts can’t be contained by boundaries and borders. His efforts to send students in the hundreds of thousands abroad is a testament that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not afraid of change, but rather that King Abdullah is preparing the next generation to embrace it.
How can a man who continues to work tirelessly to improve the lives of his people, enhance government practices, advance the nation nationally and internationally be a dictator? What many people, particularly in the West, do not understand is that despite his strong efforts to influence the process, King Abdullah is faced with an environment that presents many challenges, obstacles and resistance to change. To introduce structural change in a society that has intrinsic traditions and to actually succeed in doing it is truly an achievement of a remarkable leader and a courageous reformer.

Osamah bin Ahmad Al Sanosi Ahmad is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada.

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