King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has died at the age of 90, according to a statement read overnight (Jan. 23) on Saudi Arabian state-run television.
“His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1 am this morning,” the statement said. Qur’anic verses were chanted on the air prior to the announcement, usually indicating the death of a member of the royal family.
In recent months the king was in and out of the hospital with breathing difficulties. In January the royal court announced he was suffering with pneumonia.
The monarch was in the hospital at the time of his passing at 1 am Friday local time, the BBC reported. Born around 1923 in Riyadh, Abdullah was the 13th of 37 sons of King Abdulaziz, also known as Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern nation of Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States. He is survived by four sons and reportedly was married 13 times during his lifetime, although he never had more than four wives at one time, in accordance with Islamic law, The New York Times reported.
Abdullah rose to the throne in 2005 upon the death of his half-brother, King Fahd, but in actuality ruled the nation since his older brother was incapacitated by a stroke in 1995, when he was serving as deputy minister. He was seen by Saudis as a reformer, though one who made changes gradually. He allowed mild criticism of his government in the media, which placed him in stark contrast to most other Arab leaders in the region. Change is something that is perceived in a relative manner, depending on where you live: what is considered hypocrisy and repression to Western eyes may be seen as radical reform in the eyes of the Middle East.
The price of oil soared by more than two percent – one dollar – after his death was reported.
Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Abdullah’s’s 79-year-old half-brother, became the new king, despite the fact that it is believed the former defense minister and governor of Riyadh is suffering from dementia.
Last year King Abdullah also appointed his youngest surviving brother, 69-year-old Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, to become second in line for the throne. The move was seen as a way to ensure the monarchy would remain in the House of Saud for the foreseeable future, inasmuch as Salman and Muqrin are both sons of King Abdulaziz as well.
One of King Salman’s first acts was to immediately called on the Allegiance Council of the royal family to recognize Muqrin as his Crown Prince and heir.