- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Thousands of tribal leaders and regular Saudi citizens turned out yesterday to pledge allegiance to their new king.

King Abdullah, 81, was publicly acclaimed yesterday afternoon at the Government Palace in a simple ceremony in which heads of foreign states, tribes and ordinary Saudis lined up to pay their respects.

Abdullah was named the new monarch Monday morning after the death of his half brother, King Fahd.

Leaders of all the major allies of the kingdom were shown shaking the king’s hand live on state television.

Vice President Dick Cheney led the U.S. delegation to the ceremony; Prince Charles of Britain represented his mother, Queen Elizabeth II; and French President Jacques Chirac was present.

Abdullah stood up for more than two hours meeting his guests, stopping only occasionally to sip from a glass of water.

Hundreds of Saudis could be seen lining up to pay their respects to the king, who is popular with ordinary Saudis.

Although Abdullah is seen as more of a pan-Arab nationalist and less open to the West than his deceased brother, sources say that it is more of a difference of style than of substance.

Abdullah had been running the day-to-day affairs of this ultraconservative kingdom since King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995.

Yet his advanced age, as well as the fact that the new crown prince, Sultan, is in his late 70s, has caused many observers to worry about a power struggle in the royal family once they die.

Saudi political analyst Adel Al-Toraifi said a new generation of royals already is being groomed to take over when power passes to the next generation.

“Abdullah has appointed his son, Mutaab bin Abdullah, head of the National Guard, which is a very important post, nearly equivalent to that of minister of defense,” Mr. Al-Toraifi said.

“Prince Sultan has appointed his son, Khaled, deputy defense minister, and powerful Interior Minister Naif has appointed his son, Muhammad, deputy minister of interior. So there does seem to be some planning going on in the royal family after all,” he said.

Pressing problems such as high unemployment, women calling for the right to drive and vote, and reformists calling for more democracy are only some of the issues that the new king will be facing.

Terrorist threats from al Qaeda-linked groups, which launched a series of bloody attacks on foreign housing compounds and security forces in 2003, are still there.

Although Saudi security forces have been successful in either killing or capturing those on a most-wanted list of 24 terrorists, there seems to be a constant supply of new recruits to take the place of those eliminated.

Still, the king’s performance as crown prince has inspired the confidence of many Saudis.

“Don’t forget that it was Abdullah who single-handedly managed to salvage U.S.-Saudi relations after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.,” said Khaled Al-Dukhayil, professor of political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh.

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