Abdullah Becomes Saudi King On Death of Half Brother Fahd

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 2, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 1 -- King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, whose strategic alliance with the United States prompted a far-reaching backlash by Islamic radicals, died Monday and was succeeded by his half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, in a swift and scripted transition that signaled policy continuity in the world's largest oil exporter.

The death of Fahd brought the first change in the Saudi throne in 23 years. The ascendance of Abdullah, believed to be 82 -- and like Fahd, a son of the kingdom's founder, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud -- brought the country a step closer to a transition to a younger generation, some of whose members are less wedded to the religious establishment and more eager to see the kind of reforms that Fahd and Abdullah only tentatively embraced over the past 15 years.

Such a shift, analysts say, may become evident in jockeying over powerful posts that are vacant, such as intelligence chief, or might soon open in the Defense Ministry and National Guard.

For now, at least, the succession is more a formality than the end of an era. Ever since Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995, Abdullah had effectively ruled, steering key policies and serving as the kingdom's public face.

Despite rumors of squabbles and rifts over the pace of economic and political change, the royal family appears to have reached consensus years ago on both Abdullah's accession and that of his eventual successor, to help assure at least the veneer of calm in a deeply conservative country that prizes stability.

As the kingdom readied for Fahd's burial Tuesday, with state television broadcasting Koranic recitation and foreign leaders preparing to arrive, that was the thrust of sentiments: Abdullah needed to do little to reshape policy that was already his.

Fahd, who was believed to be 84, had entered a hospital in Riyadh on May 27 with acute pneumonia. He died about 6 a.m. Monday. Hours later, Saudi television interrupted regular broadcasting to announce his death.

"With all sorrow and sadness, the royal court in the name of His Highness Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and all members of the family announces the death of the custodian of the two holy mosques, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz," said the country's information minister, Iyad bin Amin Madani, reading a statement on state television.

The statement said the royal family had chosen Abdullah as Fahd's successor and Prince Sultan, the country's defense minister, as the new crown prince. "We were absolutely, pleasantly surprised that it took minutes, not even hours" to put in place the succession, said Mahmoud Ghamdi, the Riyadh bureau chief for the Saudi Gazette. Since Fahd's illness, "the crown prince has pretty much taken over, and people have gotten used to Crown Prince Abdullah being in charge of things. Things look sad, but things look terribly smooth."

There was no word on who would become the second deputy prime minister, effectively the number three position in the kingdom, surprising some people in Riyadh, the capital.

The White House was informed of Fahd's death about 2:30 a.m. Washington time. President Bush called Abdullah and expressed condolences over the death and congratulations on his accession, and U.S. officials said they expected little change in Saudi policy. The White House said a U.S. delegation would travel to Saudi Arabia for the burial, although Bush will not attend.

A Pivotal State

In line with the traditions of Saudi Arabia's conservative brand of Islam, there will be no state funeral. Prayers will be held Tuesday afternoon at the Mosque of Imam Turki bin Abdullah, the main mosque in Riyadh.

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