The Passing of a Great Leader by Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam (January 23, 2015)


Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who died at 90 on January 22 after ruling Saudi Arabia since 2005, leaves a rich legacy of development, social and educational reforms and regional stability.

His reign, de facto began in the 1990s as the Crown Prince to King Fahd, his half brother. As King Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke, Crown Prince Abdullah did most of the King’s work.

King Abdullah thus had the actual experience of a ruler of not ten, but 20 years. In Saudi Arabia, the impact of his visionary leadership is evident in the development of infrastructure, new cities and giant industrial hubs like Yanbu and others.

As the British say, “Make haste slowly”, King Abdullah kept on with his drive to reform, but also made it a point to preserve the traditional fabric of the country’s conservative mores. He was widely applauded for his cautious stance.

He also took care to relax the strong grip of traditional norms and the religious establishment on the country’s mores. Like his father, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the founder of the Kingdom, he was fascinated by the Bedouin lifestyle and lore and was also an admirer of progress, science and technology. These two elements mixed well in his personality.

Education being the cornerstone of scientific and technological development, he took care to build a string of technological institutions, universities, and public libraries across the country. I had the opportunity to be present at the inauguration of King Abdul Aziz Public Library in the capital by King Abdullah. It is a huge library. I got a memento at that occasion. (see picture).

Among his religio-social reforms are the streamlining of the system of fatwas and advanced training for judges. Better trained ulema, judges and Shariah experts have been able to refute the terrorist ideologies as unIslamic and strengthened the counter-narrative offered by the state.

The cause of education was so dear to him that he ignored the stiff opposition to a university he established where men and women study together. He also created thousands of scholarships for Saudi students to study in foreign universities.

Public health was another area close to his heart. He established a countrywide chain of good hospitals, medical colleges and medical cities. No wonder, his death deeply saddened Saudis, many of whom, according to reports, took it as “a death in the family”.


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