|HANDS OVER AUTHORITY
King Abdullah’s transfer of power to his brother raises issues of succession and stability for a new generation of Sauds.
Saudi king heads to US for medical tests
CAIRO — Saudi Arabia’s 86-year-old king flew to the United States yesterday for medical treatment and left control of the world’s top oil producer and key American ally in the hands of an 85-year-old half-brother who has suffered his own serious health problems.
The smooth transfer of power from one brother to another served as a reminder of the advancing age of the generation of the royal Al Saud family that has ruled the kingdom for 60 years. It also revived a longstanding question that may be taking on greater urgency: Can the rulers maintain stability when it comes time to pass the throne to a new generation?
Before King Abdullah headed for the United States, Saudi officials had been making a strong push to reassure the public and its international allies that there is nothing to worry about.
In a news conference shown on state TV, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah said a blood clot was pressing on nerves in the king’s back, causing him pain, and so he was heading abroad for treatment. “But I assure everyone that the king is in stable condition and enjoys good health and, God willing, will return in good health to lead this great nation,’’ Rabeeah said.
In a country where personal issues within the royal family are often kept under strict wraps, authorities have sought to show they are being transparent about Abdullah’s condition, aiming to dispel any speculation.
Pictures in newspapers over recent days have shown the king being pushed in a wheelchair, though still looking fairly hardy. Yesterday, state media showed photos of Abdullah bidding farewell to officials at the airport. He was seated in a plush chair on the tarmac, an IV catheter sticking out of the back of his hand, as he kissed the cheeks of his second deputy prime minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.
It was not immediately known where Abdullah would be receiving treatment in the United States. A statement from the palace said only that he would be undergoing “medical tests.’’
Before he left, Abdullah issued a royal decree mandating Crown Prince Sultan, his half-brother and heir to the throne, to “administer the nation’s affairs’’ in his absence. Abdullah has temporarily handed over authority in the past when he has traveled abroad for conferences or personal trips, though this was the first time for health reasons.