|Inquiry and Analysis - No. 519
Since he took the throne on August 1, 2005, Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz has instituted far-reaching reforms that have changed the face of the Kingdom. The reforms included:
Establishing a body to elect the king and crown prince from among the sons and grandsons of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Saud, the founder of the Saudi kingdom;
Launching an interfaith dialogue initiative, begun with the king's November 2007 visit to the Vatican, and continued in the July 2008 Madrid conference and the November 2008 New York conference;
Introducing a series of bureaucratic changes of a reformist nature;
Firing the conservative chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, as well as the hardline director of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e. the religious police);
Appointing a woman as deputy education minster for girls' education;
Introducing changes in the makeup of the Senior Clerics Council, the official Saudi religious institution;
Introducing additional changes of a reformist nature in areas such as human rights, particularly women's rights; in the struggle against extremism and terrorism; in education and culture; and more.
King 'Abdallah's reformist tendencies were mentioned as early as 2002, when he was still crown prince. In January 2002, liberal Saudi columnist Turki Al-Hamad wrote in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "In all the conferences in which Prince ['Abdallah] participates, and in all the speeches he gives, it can be sensed that this man is interested in doing things, and that he yearns for the freedom to do them - but that circumstances are holding him back. This can be sensed in his manner of speech, in his tone of voice, and in the tension in every part of his body when he speaks of what he sees and what he wants [to do in the kingdom] - but cannot because he cannot overcome the circumstances."