King Abdullah: the peace builder

The recent days have witnessed how the main international leaders have paid tribute to His Majesty King Abdullah. All the most significant world leaders flew to Riyadh to show their friendship and recognition to the late King of Saudi Arabia. This important presence was due to the special geopolitical place of Saudi Arabia but also to the historical role played by his Majesty King Abdullah.

His arrival as King was extremely scrutinized at the beginning. A lot of Western analysts were then skeptical because of his personal background and fearful of a strong sense of Saudi nationalism. These characteristics were true, from the first days at office. His Majesty gave a new and clear move to reinforce the pride and place of Saudi Arabia in the regional and international arena. Today when we are paying tribute to his legacy, we should try to enhance the main contributions that should be allocated to him.

The first and the most visionary and political oriented proposal was “The Arab Peace Initiative.” I was personally involved in the Beirut historical Summit of 2001. Still today Israel and the Western world did not capture the strategic offer that King Abdullah made. The final reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis was proposed in a mutual, equitable and just initiative that could put an end to so many decades of bloodshed and hatred. Only for that we could qualify King Abdullah as the most relevant peace builder of the Middle East because I am convinced that this initiative will be finally implemented by his successor His Majesty Salman. But that was not his only contribution. His conviction that we should respect all religions and beliefs led him to send an urgent message to His Majesty King Juan Carlos to organize in 2007- with only two weeks in advance- an International Conference in Madrid to launch an inter-religious dialogue. The encounter in Spain was a great success and it opened the way to the establishment of “King Abdullah International Center for Inter religious and Inter Cultural Dialogue” (KAICID).

I still remember with some nostalgia how he understood the realities of the Arab world and the Middle East. He was “un homme de parole” as the French would say. He was always generous and merciful but if he was “cheated” he would not forgive such a behavior. I know that it was the case with Syria when he gave several opportunities to President Bashar al-Assad with whom he felt “deceived.” But he had a clear sense and knowledge of the different sensibilities of the leaders of his area. He rightly insisted to U.S. and Western allies upon their mistake to support a government in Iraq that would not be able to overcome the multiple challenges of his country. He was not listened to and the results are present today with the dramatic situation against ISIS.

King Abdullah was a nationalist who defended the process of modernity in his country and gave his citizens a better share of the general prosperity of his Kingdom. He started a gradual process of modernization being aware of the internal contradictions. He was always a good ally to the West but he didn’t doubt to renounce the U.N. Security Council seat as non-permanent member when he considered that the U.N. credibility was at his lowest level.

Today we should pay a sincere and legitimate tribute to a statesman who knew how to balance the internal interest s of Saudi Arabia with the regional and international challenges. “The Arab Peace Initiative” remains his main contribution to peace. We, the international community, should immediately in the year 2015 succeed to make it a reality on his behalf.