Defining Influence

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques KingAbdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the King of Saudi Arabia in 2005, upon the passing of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. Since that […]

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques KingAbdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the King of Saudi Arabia in 2005, upon the passing of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. Since that time, Saudi Arabia’s GDP has nearly tripled, the nation has remained stable through serious regional conflicts, and its economy has become markedly more diverse.

He began as the Mayor of Mecca, but transitioned quickly to a significant pre-ascension position; Commander of the National Guard. He held that post for several decades, modernizing the National Guard and taking important steps to institutionalize tribal customs. He also served as Second Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Defense Minister, and Crown Prince under King Fahd.

In each of these positions, King Abdullah was instrumental in developing the nation. In sum, he played key economic, social, and political roles before becoming King. Throughout the decade that he was Crown Prince, he was influential in all aspects of the nation’s affairs, both domestic and international. When he arrived on the throne, he possessed a wealth of experience in governing Saudi Arabia, and has found favor among the nation’s diverse population and brought it an unprecedented degree of influence on the international stage.

Throughout his rule, King Abdullah has proven himself a careful and wise reformer, and has been a critical force in Saudi Arabia’s modernization. One of his most lauded and significant projects is the transition toward a diversified economy from one that is still largely dependent on hydrocarbon revenues. In 2014, the fruits of a comprehensive strategy to grow the non-hydrocarbon economy are being seen. Official figures show that non-oil GDP grew at 9% in 2013, and the value of non-oil exports grew at 7%.

These strong figures reflect the growth trend of the country, but also economic policies and strong, targeted government spending that seems to be achieving its aims. Over the past eight years the Saudi Arabian government has spent $1.36 trillion in annual budgets, not counting the many billions it spends on special projects each year. Such projects are a hallmark of King Abdullah’s economic management, and megaprojects like the King Abdullah Economic City and the King Abdullah Financial District promise to make Saudi Arabia a hub for commerce in the region over the next decade. They will mature in a Saudi Arabia that is better connected than ever before by thousands of kilometers of new railroads, city metros, several new airports, and a high-speed train.

This spectrum of projects is populated by professionals who have benefited from years of educational reform under King Abdullah, who has been a champion of human resource development. The King Abdullah City for Science and Technology is one high-level institution spearheading research and innovation that bears his name, but over the past decade universities and professional institutes have sprung up across the nation with the support of the government. In addition to these measures, education is now continuing in the workplace in the form of training for Saudis, thanks to labor reform by the King’s government.

In the past, foreigners willing to work for less often displaced Saudi Arabian nationals seeking employment in the private sector. New Saudizaton requirements are set to change that, and companies are investing in their Saudi employees on a scale unthinkable even a few years ago. For this publication, we interviewed many executives who spoke about close competition for highly qualified Saudi professionals, and how international conferences and training programs were playing an increasing role in developing skills at the workplace. Employment and education go hand in hand in the King’s strategy for diversification.

The 2008 financial crisis left Saudi Arabia unruffled. Those events proved that the country is well insulated from global economic fluctuations by high oil revenues and skilled economic management. Following the global crisis, his government implemented housing projects, educational grants, wage increases, and the aforementioned labor reform in order to shore up economic prosperity and encourage Saudization. This calculated injection of social programs belies an important aspect of King Abdullah’s government; its dynamism. Although the country is economically and politically stable, its leaders clearly weigh information carefully and respond to change with shrewd and well-considered decisions. King Abdullah has governed for stability throughout his reign, pursuing economic reforms at a measured pace.

King Abdullah turns 90 in 2014, and one of his key legacies will be orchestrating the smooth handoff of power to his successors. Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has proven his leadership in recent years, and King Abdullah’s sons have taken up key positions of power, which should ensure stability and decision-making consistency over the coming decade. In 2014, King Abdullah also appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the last of King Abdulaziz’s able-bodied sons, to Deputy Crown Prince, establishing a distinct path of secession.

King Abdullah has been, and is to this day, a very active statesman. In 2014 alone, he has received many foreign heads of state and other high-ranking officials, including Barack Obama and John Kerry, and has visited Egypt. The foundation for the country’s continuing development, both domestically and internationally, has been carefully laid. This is an important year for Saudi Arabia and for King Abdullah, as he locks in the developments that define his time as the nation’s monarch. Saudi Arabia has matured with global trends thanks to King Abdullah’s leadership, and today its bright economic future owes much to him.