With the recent death of their King, Saudi Arabia could very well have slipped in to turmoil. Women could have been driving at night and showing their ankles, journalists may have written think-pieces critical of the government without being flogged, and people would have started to morally decay and only pray four times per day. Luckily for the monarchy, the transition went a little bit smoother than that.
King Abdullah is a man who will leave behind a legacy that is, at best, mixed. Although he was a reformer who is seen as being responsible for modernizing one of the most conservative nations in the world, Abdullah was a man who was shaped by the culture just as much as he shaped it.
He leaves behind 11 wives, “about 35″ children, and the entirety of the vast oil resources of Saudi Arabia, all three of which were his personal property under what passes for Saudi law.
A Complex Legacy
The King was known for his personal philanthropy, giving over $11 billion to charity over the course of his lifetime. In addition to the UN World Food Program and Chinese earthquake relief, Abdullah is also thought to have given away an unknown amount of money to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other extremist groups.
Abdullah did give women the right to drive and vote with permission from their husbands, but also took part in a social system where women were property. He eased some restrictions on the press in Saudi Arabia, but preserved a system that flogged and executed journalists for criticizing his reign. His treatment of Saudi homosexuals was less mixed, surprising in a country where men kiss to greet each other.
An $18 Billion Inheritance
One of the largest questions following the passing of King Abdullah is what will happen to his massive personal fortune. Not only did the dictator have enough liquid assets to make Scrooge McDuck blush, he also has over 20 homes, countless cars and jets, massive real estate holdings, and other investments that need to be doled out and dealt with.
The Question of Succession
Saudi Arabia doesn’t handle royal succession like any other monarchy in the world. Rather than one of the King’s sons being elevated to the throne, it’s another of Abdullah’s brothers which will get the job. The royal patriarchy starts and ends with Abdullah’s father, Ibn Saud, who founded the nation in 1902 after conquering the city of Riyadh.
Ever since, the Kings of Saudi Arabia have been drawn exclusively from the sons of the original King Saud. Abdullah, who was the 9th son, passed control of the Kingdom to the 10th son, King Salman, after his death. As King Salman’s reign begins, the entire world is left wondering what happens when Ibn Saud runs out of sons.