Saudi power passes to Fahd's brother


KING Fahd of Saudi Arabia handed the running of the government to his younger brother Crown Prince Abdullah yesterday after suffering a stroke in November.

The announcement was made in a royal order. King Fahd did not abdicate.

Earlier yesterday, King Fahd, who is also prime minister, received Crown Prince Abdullah, Defence Minister Prince Sultan and other senior officials.

The royal order, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), said the 73 year old king ordered the crown prince "to undertake the affairs of the state while we enjoy rest". Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter and producer.

The crown prince, who is also head of the 57,000 man National

Guard, accepted the king's order.

Michael Jansen writes

Crown Prince Abdullah, whose temporary stewardship is certain to become permanent, is the 13th of the 43 sons of King Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom who secured his throne by marrying into his country's 30, major tribal groupings.

Born in 1923, Prince Abdullah was the only son of the widow of one of Ibn Saud's bitter enemies slain in battle. Perhaps because of his mother's difficult position at court, the prince emerged as a loner in the inner circle of Ibn Saud's sons. Unable to compete, with the powerful clique seven sons born to Hassa al Sudairi (the eldest being King Fahd who succeeded to the throne in 1982), Abdullah built his own constituency within the kingdom.

This was the National Guard, the "White Army" established to counter the infection of the regular army with secular, anti monarchist ideas.

The crown prince's smooth, unchallenged, even unremarkable elevation conforms to the pattern of a Sudairi son being succeeded by a non Sudairi son.

Prince Sultan, the next Sudairi son in line after King Fahd, is earmarked to be appointed Crown Prince once Abdullah is proclaimed king. Prince Sultan holds the posts of second deputy prime minister and defence minister in, the present government.

Judged by his appearance, Saudi Arabia's new ruler would seem to be a stocky, stolid, pugnacious man. He is, in fact, a gentle retiring person. He has the reputation of being a populist, an Arab nationalist and more independent minded than his half brothers.

He opposed the deployment of US forces on Saudi soil during the 1990 Kuwait crisis. Prince Abdullah has a close relationship with the Syrian President Mr Hafez alAssad, as the prince and the president's brother, Rifaat, are married to sisters.

Prince Abdullah surrounds himself with intelligent, educated advisers. He is expected to tackle some of the major problems which have arisen during the inept and corrupt rule of King Fahd during which falling oil revenues reduced Saudi per capita income from $15,000 to $5,000 a year.

On one hand, strengthened, by tribal and middle class backing, the new ruler may be able to curb the luxurious excesses of the princes, reduce expenditure on Western military hardware and impose income tax and charges for electricity to replenish the depleted public purse.

On the other, because of his close connection with conservative tribesmen who oppose Saudi Arabia's alliance with Washington, he may seek to distance the kingdom from the US. The traditionalist tribes would, however, oppose democratising decision making and converting the absolutist monarchy into a constitutional one, a transformation regional experts believe could preserve the disintegrating kingdom.