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Mixed legacy for a monarch



Published: Wed, August 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Philadelphia Inquirer: World leaders quickly sent their condolences Monday to Saudi Arabia upon the death of King Fahd.

If only changes in Saudi policies would arrive that quickly.

The late king's successor and half-brother, former Crown Prince Abdullah, has been de facto head of the government since Fahd, 82, suffered a crippling stroke in 1995.

The king's accomplishments, not the abuses of his family's rule, were the subjects of the posthumous tributes. He was remembered for modernizing Saudi Arabia and allying it with the West, while presenting the kingdom as a devout guardian of two of Islam's holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

His balance was not very good: He allowed space for Wahhabism, the Muslim sect that dominates Saudi religious life, to motivate Osama bin Laden and others into fighting the West with terrorism. Most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis, as was bin Laden, the attacks' architect.

Oil success

King Fahd was better at handling the nation's plentiful crude oil supply during his 23 years as monarch.

King Abdullah, 81, is expected to continue the policy of high production rates to stabilize prices on the world market. If Monday's $61.57 per barrel price is any indication, though, that world market is jittery at the prospect that Saudi Arabia will continue to be led by aging royalists.

It will take quiet but persistent prodding from the United States for Saudi Arabia to put more effort into other U.S. priorities.

The Bush administration should use this moment of formal succession to re-emphasize its concern that Saudi leaders confront, not placate, militant Islamic clerics who preach jihad.

At Bush's ranch last April, the President and then-Crown Prince Abdullah agreed that Saudi Islamic leaders should preach "peace, moderation and tolerance" rather than attacks upon Westerners.

The time for shrugging and looking the other way is over.




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