If anything, King Abdullah was a visionary man. He had realized that Arabs and Muslims would be better off in a more tolerant environment. Years before the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the ascendance of radical movements in this part of the world, King Abdullah warned that Muslims around the globe would suffer in a polarized world. Driven by his fear and concerns about the future of Muslims, he invested heavily for the welfare of the Muslims. Over the last decade he had been pushing for dialogue among civilizations and among religions to secure a safe place of Muslims in a changing world.
During his rule, King Abdullah led his country through a web of regional and international pressure thus turning Saudi Arabia into a country that could lead and initiate rather than to react. When King Abdullah internalized that the Arab order was about to shatter, he swiftly moved from the traditional policy of working behind the scenes to secure Arab consensus into a forefront position in the struggle for a better regional environment for the Arabs and the Muslims.
His statecraft manifested with the rise of terrorism in this part of the world. Under his leadership, Saudi Arabia took part in the ongoing war against the Islamic State. More importantly, Riyadh has become the anchor for the defense of the Gulf and effectively diminished the influence of Iran in the wider Middle East. In each move, Tehran took into account the reaction of Saudi Arabia. In fact, politicians in Iran understand very well that Saudi Arabia is the vital player in the Gulf that could not be overlooked.
In fact, this is the legacy of King Abdullah that he left behind him for the new king to follow. For this reason, continuity rather than change is the most likely scenario in Saudi foreign relations. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman — who was sworn in as king on Friday — gave his crowning speech in which he pledged to maintain the same policies adopted by his late brother.
Hence, under the leadership of King Salman, the Kingdom is most likely to continue its support for fighting terrorism, restraining the expansionist Iran, supporting the Palestinian Authority in its bid to realize independence and statehood, and protecting the security of the Gulf region from external threats and Iranian interference in particular.
At the domestic level, the new leadership will continue the same policies to ensure the improvement of the living standards of the Saudi people. In this regard, the Kingdom is most likely to focus on education to help develop human resources. The late king sent thousands of Saudi students to study abroad, and in years those students will come back home equipped with skills and knowledge that could help advance the Saudi economy.
The legacy of the late king is one that is based on a clear vision of the role of the country in a changing world. Despite the regional turmoil of the last few years, King Abdullah skillfully maneuvered to protect his country from the spillover of the regional threats. Not only did he safeguard the home front, but he also turned his country into a more effective player in the wider Middle East. King Salman will for sure build on this legacy to catapult the country into a new success.
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