King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (simply King Abdullah) was born in August 1924 in Riyadh. He was the 13th of the 45 sons of the founding father of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz. Abdullah was the sixth king of Saudi Arabia who ruled since 2005 after succeeding his half brother, King Fahd. Since 1995, King Abdullah was Saudi’s de facto leader. He assumed this leadership after King Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke. King Abdullah died in January 2015. During his reign, he transformed Saudi Arabia into a better country than his predecessors did. These transformations were notable in education, security, relationship with other countries, women empowerment, interfaith tolerance, and royal family succession process. It is through his dedication to positive reforms that I have always admired his leadership as the king of Saudi Arabia. This paper describes King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud as the leader I most admired and the rationale behind my admiration.
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Before King Abdullah assumed power as the king, Saudi Arabia faced major threats from domestic religious extremists that were supported by al-Qaeda. In addition, the citizens were restless due to the corruption of previous regimes. However, at his death, King Abdullah had managed to minimise considerably domestic threats. Notably, the only potential threat to Saudi Arabia is its short- to medium-term hostility with Iran which is associated with their rivalry over the regional supremacy. Basically, the decline of domestic threats implies that King Abdullah embraced responsive and ethical leadership among his subjects.
King Abdullah embraced modern education. For instance, in order to modernise Saudi Arabia education, King Abdullah sponsored King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). KAUST offers coeducation laboratory lessons and class sessions. Notably, over the years Saudi Arabia has embraced strict constraints by not letting women to intermingle with men or drive. However, at KAUST, men and women take classes together and drive. Besides, this institution does not compel women to put on veils and abayas. The proponents of King Abdullah reforms consider KAUST as a breakthrough towards the achievement of a global scientific centre that can match higher learning education institutions in developed parts of the world such as Europe, United States, and Asia. Therefore, King Abdullah to sponsor KAUST shows his consciousness on modern education and in particular science and technology.
As the king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah leadership was characterised by honesty and sincerity that was guided by chivalry, courage, truth and justice. His characters are highly demonstrated by his speech during KUAST inauguration. In his speech during the inauguration of KAUST, King Abdullah argued that science and faith cannot compete unless in unhealthy souls. In support of gender intermingling, King Abdullah noted that scientific centres that encourage the participation of all individuals create foundations against extremists. He urged KAUST to act as a beacon of tolerance. On the other hand, when religious groups voiced their criticism towards the university citing that coeducational policy is a violation of Sharia, King Abdullah acted swiftly. For instance, when Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri argued that mixing of women and men is a great sin, the king responded by removing Nasser al-Shithri from his post using a royal decree. As such, courageousness and candid characterised King Abdullah’s convictions in his mode of leadership.
During his reign, King Abdullah empowered women more than his predecessors did. For instance, he passed a decree to allow women to participate in municipal elections though voting. Further, he allowed women and men to intermingle in classes and laboratories in KAUST. Further, he ordered a university for women to be constructed in Riyadh. Although a construction of university for women alone may be considered as promoting gender segregation; however, I think it should be viewed as a channel of empowering women through higher education. Thus, these policies demonstrate that King Abdullah embraced equality between men and women in education and other aspects.
King Abdullah was a peaceful leader who committed himself in strengthening the understandings between faiths and nations across the world. For instance, in his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he advocated for interfaith tolerance. Again, King Abdullah introduced Abdullah Plan for Arab Peace with Israel. In the plan, Israel was to let go Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and West Bank for the sake of having peace with Arab nations. At family level, King Abdullah minimised succession uncertainties by establishing an Allegiance Council. Senior princes make up the Allegiance Council, with their mandate being to choose the prince who will inherit the kingdom after the death of a king. Further, the Saudi Arabia king embraced a strong US-Saudi relationship as a way to creating stability and security in the Arab world and beyond. Notably, King Abdullah’s warm relationships did not deter him from speaking his mind. For instance, after the US invasion in Iraq, King Abdullah declared the act as illegitimate.
In retrospect, King Abdullah left Saudi Arabia, a different country that it was when he assumed power. Notably, his leadership was more receptive to the public discussion of the government problems. Further, King Abdulla relied on his avuncular style of leadership and reputation of being honest to outwit all forms of media criticism. He pursued modern education, women empowerment, interfaith tolerance, and proper succession process in Saudi leadership. Through such positive reforms, King Abdullah was popular among Saudis. Besides, such reforms form the rationale why I most admired him as a leader.