King Abdullah, a cautious reformer on the Saudi throne (Overview)

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – For years Abdullah bin Abd-al-Aziz, King Fahd's younger brother, has been the public face of Saudi Arabia. As Crown Prince and heir, he ran the kingdom's oil affairs since 1995 when Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke.

As a member of the innermost circle of Saudi princes, Abdullah has been one of the most influential men of the kingdom— respected for his honesty both at home and abroad and untainted by corruption.

Prince Abdullah was born in Riyadh in 1924, the son of King Abd-al-Aziz Al Saud, founder of the Saudi state in 1932.

His first public office was as mayor of the holy city of Mecca.

In 1963, he became Deputy Defence Minister and commander of the National Guard. He has remained its commander ever since.

He was nominated Crown Prince in 1982.

Considered more nationalist than his late brother, Abdullah has never the less been keen to keep a balance between the simple traditions of Saudi life and the need for modernisation and reform.

He has recognised the need for close political and economic ties with the West, but likes to see this relationship balanced by closer links with other Arab states.

The Crown Prince has on several occasions tried to mediate in inter-Arab disputes—in 1984, he expressed support for the Syrian position in Lebanon and demanded a withdrawal of US marines from the area.

He has also been a harsh critic of US support for Israel and the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

In March 2002 he suggested that the Arabs should be prepared to normalise relations with Israel if the latter withdrew to the 1967 boundaries.

In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he was opposed to the stationing of American forces in Saudi Arabia.

He has been very cautious about reforming the kingdom and has tried to remain in tune with both  those who oppose major changes as well as those who propose greater reforms.