King Abdullah: A man of vision and action

ON Sept. 23, 2009 when Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah inaugurated a world-class university for science and technology in Thuwal, he was not only realizing a dream that was living in his heart for 25 years but was driving home a strong point that the Muslim world has to achieve scientific and technological progress in order to join the league of developed countries.

The opening of a new House of Wisdom in a fishing village, 80 km north of Jeddah, also reflected King Abdullah’s vision and penchant for knowledge. “It is a continuation of what distinguished our civilization in its Golden Age…The Islamic nation knows too well that it will not be powerful unless it depends on, after God, science,” he said while opening the international research university.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is one of the major achievements of Abdullah, who became the king of Saudi Arabia on Aug. 1, 2005, following the death of his brother King Fahd. King Abdullah’s reign has been characterized by a number of important reforms and achievements, which have elevated the Kingdom to an advanced rank among the world’s countries.

King Abdullah has given top priority to education and training of young Saudi men and women and allocated more than 25 percent of the national budget for the purpose. During his rule, the number of government universities jumped from eight to 24, giving students in all parts of the country access to higher education. More than 80,000 Saudis are now pursuing their higher education in reputed international universities thanks to a foreign scholarship program he introduced about three years ago.

King Abdullah brought about a number of reforms to empower Saudi women.

He appointed a woman for the first time as a deputy minister in the Ministry of Education. He also established a women-only university, which is the largest center of higher learning of its kind in the world. During the first year of his rule, he increased the salaries of government employees by 15 percent, hiked the allocation for social insurance and released thousands of prisoners.

As a result of Abdullah’s prudent economic policies, Saudi Arabia remained relatively stable amid the global financial crisis that had shaken most countries in the world including major economies. During the international financial slowdown, he introduced a number of public expenditure programs worth more than $400 billion to keep the Kingdom’s economy vibrant and growing.

Ever since its accession to the World Trade Organization in December 2005, Saudi Arabia has been receiving huge funds in foreign investment. It was placed eighth among top 10 recipients of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world in 2009, making the world’s largest oil exporter the top FDI destination in the Middle East.

According to a recent report released by UNCTAD, Saudi Arabia lured $36 billion in foreign direct investments in 2009.

King Abdullah has won international applause for fighting extremism and the cancer of religious inspired terrorism. Shortly after becoming king, he delivered a speech in Makkah about his vision for the Muslim world: “Fanaticism and extremism cannot grow on an Earth whose soil is embedded in the spirit of tolerance, moderation and balance. Good governance can eliminate injustice, destitution and poverty.” While religious zealots with little or no education use Islam as a tool to attack the West, King Abdullah believes that “We are progressives by virtue of our Islam.”

King Abdullah is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and used his foreign tours to mobilize support for the Palestinian cause and reinforce peace and stability in the Middle East. His brainchild, the Arab peace initiative, offers Israel normal relations with Arabs if it withdraws from territories occupied since 1967, accepts a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and solves the Palestinian refugee problem. Abdullah presented the idea at the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut when he was crown prince.

The interfaith dialogue initiative is King Abdullah’s another major contribution to human civilization. He realized that dialogue between the followers of different cultures and religious faiths was essential to establish peace and harmony in the world. After mobilizing the support of Islamic scholars, he held an international dialogue conference in the Spanish capital of Madrid, which was attended by 300 leaders of different religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. A conference of world leaders was held at the United Nations in New York at his initiative in order to win international support for interfaith dialogue.

King Abdullah is widely known as the king of humanity as a result of his charitable and philanthropic activities benefiting people all over the world. Recently, an international charitable foundation has been launched bearing his name to carry out humanitarian activities around the world in a more organized manner.

The foundation aims to offer assistance to Muslims across the world by building mosques, Islamic centers and promoting interfaith dialogues. It will establish universities, colleges, schools and libraries besides centers for professional and technical training and social and research studies as well as hospitals, sanitariums and other treatment, care and rehabilitation facilities.

“The foundation’s objectives also included setting up research chairs at universities, offering grants and assistance to researchers in various subjects and studies that would contribute to the promotion of knowledge and culture globally,” said Prince Khaled bin Abdullah, deputy chairman of the board of trustees. It will also organize seminars, conferences, forums, exhibitions and workshops.

King Abdullah’s support for Pakistan’s flood victims has been phenomenal. He called for a nationwide fundraising campaign to help Pakistan after torrential floods hit the country. He also ordered the distribution of 1,000 truckloads of foodstuffs among the affected population and the setting up of two field hospitals. A team of Saudi Civil Defense officers was dispatched to take part in search and rescue operations in the flood-ravaged country. Saudi Arabia has quietly overtaken the United States as the single largest aid donor by giving more than $140 million to Pakistan.

No wonder King Abdullah has been listed by Newsweek among the world’s most respected 10 leaders. In its August 16, 2010 issue, the US magazine lauded King Abdullah as a reformer “who has given the go-ahead to modernize schools, has appointed women to high office and invested in science and technology and nuclear power initiatives.” It commended the king’s efforts to fight terrorism and extremism, adding that the Saudi leader has urged Muslims “to embrace the spirit of tolerance, moderation and balance.” – arabnews