Power behind throne is Saudi of a different stripe
Ibn Saud was a desert warrior who subdued the rebellious tribes of Arabia in 1932 and named the resulting country after himself. He also had some interesting ideas about child rearing.Skip to next paragraph
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Saudi Arabia's first king was once quoted as saying: "I train my own children to walk barefoot, to rise two hours before dawn, to eat but little, to ride horses bareback."
It is a standard of discipline and toughness that is hard to imagine in today's oil-rich kingdom, where wealthy princes are more at home in Gucci loafers than padding shoeless across a scorching desert.
Ibn Saud had no idea about the dangers of Osama bin Laden or antiterrorism alliances, but he did know that for a country and its leaders to survive in such a treacherous corner of the world, those leaders - his sons - would need to be tough and disciplined.
If there is one of Ibn Saud's 37 sons who has retained those lessons, it is Crown Prince Abdullah, according to Middle East experts.
As the United States presses its war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and the Middle East braces for possible broader turmoil inspired by Mr. bin Laden, Abdullah is poised to play what analysts say will be a critical role in deciding how best to maintain the stability of Saudi Arabia.
One indication of his toughness came in reaction to recent US press reports critical of Saudi cooperation in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. Many of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, a fact the Saudi government is reluctant to acknowledge.
"The vicious campaign being waged against the kingdom in the Western media is nothing but the manifestation of a deep-rooted hatred directed against the course of Islam," Abdullah said. "Commitment to Islam and the homeland is not up for debate."
Although some Middle East analysts in Washington say he is anti-American, others say he seems to be the right man at the right time to help protect Saudi Arabia and, by extension, US interests there.
"He is the best thing we could have going for us," says a US-based analyst with long experience in the kingdom. "You can't say that revolution is impossible in Saudi Arabia, but it is highly unlikely as long as Abdullah is alive and functioning."
Abdullah's success - or failure - will have a direct impact on the rest of the world. Saudi Arabia sits atop roughly one-quarter of the world's oil supply, and any disruption of the kingdom's oil production would have a major impact on the international economy.
Since the mid-1990s, when King Fahd suffered a stroke, Abdullah has taken on a greater share of responsibility. At 77, he has become de facto leader, running the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom.
The gradual emergence of Abdullah in recent years has some observers in Washington concerned, in part because of his affinity for Arab and Islamic causes - including his anger over what he sees as a US double standard in its support for Israel regardless of Israel's harsh and illegal treatment of the Palestinians in the ongoing intifada.
Others say that while Abdullah may not be as pro-Western and as low-key as King Fahd or Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister and third-ranking Saudi royal, he understands the importance of Saudi Arabia's ties to the US.