King Abdullah, the timid Saudi reformer, is dead
He is succeeded by his half-brother Salman. The Crown Prince is Moqren. Ambiguous relations with the United States, but also with China. Proponent of a peace plan for Israel and Palestine, but opposed to the Arab spring. His meeting with Benedict XVI. Supporter of the opponents of Bashar Assad and Iran's enemy. The Wahhabi kingdom must defend itself against al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died last night at o'clock (local time), after a few weeks in the hospital with pneumonia. The sovereign was 90 years old (his exact date of birth is unknown). The Royal House announced that his funeral and burial will take place today, after Islamic prayers in the afternoon. It also announced that his successor is his half-brother Abdullah Salman, 79, and that the crown prince is Moqren, 69.

Abdullah ascended to the throne in 2005 upon the death of King Fahd, but in fact reigned since '95, due to his stepbrother's poor health.

Among the first to pay tribute to the memory of the deceased king was US President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande.

The news of the death of Abdullah has caused little  surprise: he was ill for years and often spent periods in hospital. Analysts view him as a cautious reformer of the dynasty and Saudi society. During his reign, in the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive a car, he granted them the opportunity to vote in municipal elections. He also reduced the influence of the religious police (muttawa) in the private lives of the Saudis. He also worked for peace between Israel and Palestine, proposing in 2002 a comprehensive peace plan between the Arab countries and Israel in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The plan was thwarted by the United States and categorically refused by Israel.

After 9/11, relations with the US faltered, since most of the terrorists involved in the attack on the Twin Towers were Saudis. Abdullah tried to maintain relations with the United States, but in 2003, with the international invasion of Iraq, he would not grant US aircraft permission to have a base in Saudi Arabia. In 2009 he stepped up relations with China, which has become the main customer of the oil rich kingdom. But in 2011 he bought weapons from the US for nearly34 billion US dollars.

In 2007, a year after the Regensburg speech, critical of the violence in Islam, the Saudi King became the first in history to meet with a Pope, Benedict XVI.

With the outbreak of the Arab Spring, for fear of seeing the end of his reign, he used military force against the riots in the country and in neighboring countries (see Bahrain) and poured more than  130 billion US dollars into the domestic economy to appease popular discontent. At the same time he has curbed the press freedom and launched an anti-terrorism law that allows security forces to arrest anyone suspected of criminal actions for at least six months.

Saudi Arabia is home to the two most important holy places of Islam, Mecca and Medina, popular places of pilgrimage. During his reign, Abdullah also had to fight the Iranian influence on the Muslim world. In Syria, the Kingdom also continues to fund the fundamentalist opponents of Bashar Assad, while Iran supports the latter.

Home to Wahhabi Islam, the most fundamentalist and combative form of Islam, Saudi Arabia is facing the threat of al Qaeda in the Islamic peninsula and those of the Islamic State on the border with Iraq. Both radical groups count supporters in the Kingdom.