Saudi Arabia’s elderly King Abdullah will leave for the United States today for medical checks for a back ailment, and Crown Prince Sultan is returning from holiday abroad, state media said yesterday.
Western diplomats in Riyadh said the prince’s return indicates that kingdom, the which has no political parties or elected parliament, is trying to prevent a power vacuum and reassure Washington and other allies.
A day before his departure, the king reappointed several officials close to his reform course, including Saudi Arabia’s relatively moderate top Islamic scholar and the ambassador to Washington.
In a rare move, Saudi Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah appeared late yesterday on state television to assure the public that the king was healthy and would return to lead the country.
Prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi said the fourth medical bulletin in little more than a week showed the desert kingdom, known for its secrecy, wanted to dispel any rumors.