23 January 2015: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who came to the throne in old age and earned a reputation as a cautious reformer even as the Arab Spring revolts toppled heads of state and Islamic State militants threatened the Muslim establishment that he represented, died on Friday, according to a statement on state television. He was 90.
The Royal Court said in a statement broadcast across the kingdom that the king had died early Friday. The royal court did not disclose the exact cause of death. An announcement quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency said the king had a lung infection when he was admitted on Dec. 31 to a Riyadh hospital.
The kingâ€™s death adds yet another element of uncertainty in a region already overwhelmed by crises and as Saudi Arabia is itself in a struggle with Iran for regional dominance.
The royal family moved quickly to assure a smooth transition of power in a nation that is a close ally of the United States, the worldâ€™s largest exporter ofoil and the religious center of the Islamic faith. In a televised statement, Abdullahâ€™s brother, Crown Prince Salman, announced that the king had died and that he had assumed the throne.
Salmanâ€™s ascension appears to signal that the kingdom will preserve its current policies, but he faces exceptional new challenges. Though Saudi Arabia has traditionally preferred to push its agenda through checkbook diplomacy, it has taken a far more muscular approach since the Arab Spring, offering generous support to its allies, like Egypt, while working to oppose adversaries like President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Even as the drop in the price of oil has depleted its own treasury, it has steadfastly refused to cut the supply, hoping to increase market share at the expense of adversaries that are less able to pump oil at low prices.
â€œAs our countries worked together to confront many challenges, I always valued King Abdullahâ€™s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship,â€ President Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. â€œAs a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions.â€
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced that he was to lead the American delegation â€œto pay our respects and offer condolences.â€
Accidents of birth and geology made Abdullah one of the worldâ€™s wealthiest and most powerful men. In control of a fifth of the worldâ€™s known petroleum reserves, he traveled to medical appointments abroad in a fleet of jumbo jets, and the changes he wrought in Saudi society were fueled by gushers of oil money.
As king he also bore the title of custodian of Islamâ€™s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, making him one of the faithâ€™s most important figures.
Abdullah had grown accustomed to the levers of power long before hisascension to the throne in August 2005. After his predecessor, King Fahd, a half brother, had a stroke in November 1995, Abdullah, then the crown prince, ruled in the kingâ€™s name.
Yet Abdullah spoke as plainly as the Bedouin tribesmen with whom he had been sent to live in his youth. He refused to be called â€œyour majestyâ€ and discouraged commoners from kissing his hand. He shocked the 7,000 or so Saudi princes and princesses by cutting their allowances. He was described as ascetic, or as ascetic as someone in the habit of renting out entire hotels could be.