The Legacy of King Abdullah: A Conversation with Dr. Hanan Edrees

Published: September 9, 2015

Editor’s Note:

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud was proclaimed the King of Saudi Arabia on August 1, 2005 and he served as monarch and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques until his death on January 23, 2015. Abdullah was Crown Prince and heir from 1982 to 2005 and served as regent following the incapacitation of King Fahd in 1995. As such he was responsible for the day to day operations of the government. Abdullah also served as Commander of the Saudi Arabia National Guard from 1962 through 2013. It would be difficult to overstate his impact on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its position in the world.

SUSRIS compiled a large collection of articles, interviews (including our Feb. 2001 GulfWire conversation with Crown Prince Abdullah), special reports and other reference material about the life and times of King Abdullah since we began chronicling US-Saudi relations in 2003. Much of this is available through a new Special Section titled, “The Legacy of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.”

In an effort to further document his life and times and his influence on Saudi Arabia, the global stage and US-Saudi relations, SUSRIS launched a series of interviews with officials, diplomats, journalists, business people, military officers, scholars, students and more who have important insights and perspectives on King Abdullah.

Today we are pleased to offer for your consideration the latest interview in the series, our conversation with Hanan Edrees, Doctor of Public Health and an alumna of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. Dr. Edrees, a Saudi citizen, received her doctorate in Healthcare Management from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been an active proponent of strong relations between Americans and Saudis and has been involved in many “bridge building” conferences and activities.

Our interview with Dr. Edrees was conducted by email in September 2015. We thank her for sharing her insights with you here.

[Check the links below for more in this series and in the SUSRIS Special Section – “The Legacy of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.”]

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EXCLUSIVE

The Legacy of King Abdullah: A Conversation with Dr. Hanan Edrees

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[SUSRIS] How would you describe King Abdullah’s impact on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

hanan-edrees-1[Dr. Hanan Edrees] During his ten years of power, King Abdullah, peace be upon him, initiated and implemented several reform measures in education, economics, healthcare, social and judicial systems, and infrastructural development projects in the Kingdom. He was known to be “The King of Humanity,” as he created a national strategy to address poverty in the country.

His cabinet reshuffle in 2009 alluded to the fact that the King has laid the foundation for reform in Saudi Arabia. He established historic changes to the judicial law, succession law, and the educational system.

King Abdullah believed that education was instrumental in the country’s growth and development. One of his most prominent educational reforms included the launch of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, or KASP, a government program that offers Saudi nationals a scholarship to complete their undergraduate and postgraduate studies abroad. He also invested in the talents of the younger generation by building various universities throughout Saudi Arabia.

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The King also built several economic and medical cities, created the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, called KAUST, and the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University for Girls, expanded the Two Holy Mosques and contributed to many welfare projects.

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The empowerment of women was one of the significant achievements in the King’s reforms. For the first time in history, the King appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, the Consultative Assembly. He also gave women the right to vote for municipal councils. He appointed Nora Al Fayez, the deputy education minister, which was the highest position held by a Saudi female. King Abdullah allowed women athletes to compete in the 2012 London Olympics for the first time.

[SUSRIS] How would you describe King Abdullah’s impact on the international stage?

[Edrees] The King was an advocate of world peace, stability and anti-terrorism. He held prominent international summits, including the Arab League Summit, GCC Supreme Council, OPEC Summit of Heads of States, and the Counter-Terrorism International Conference.

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King Abdullah was the first Saudi king to visit the Pope—Pope Benedict XVI at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. In 2008, he held an interfaith dialogue in Spain that brought together religious leaders of various faiths. This resulted in the establishment of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria as well as the declaration of the World Interfaith Harmony Week.

While some of the King’s initiatives focused on energy and global oil markets, many initiatives offered extensive aid to victims of world disasters. He generously donated millions of dollars to the UN World Food Program, the Sichuan earthquake in China, the Ebola crisis in West Africa—just to name a few. He established two libraries, one in Riyadh and one in Casablanca, Morocco. In 2012, Forbes named him as the seventh most powerful figure in the “World’s Most Powerful People.” And he also received numerous honors and awards for his peace initiatives.

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[SUSRIS] How would you describe King Abdullah’s impact on Saudi-US relations?

[Edrees] During his time as a Crown Prince and prior to ascending the thrown, King Abdullah was very active in strengthening the Saudi-US relations, which began over 70 years ago. The King participated in many of the bilateral initiatives, such as the economy, energy, oil, and education. He made a few visits to the United States and met with Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. It is no mistake that the United States is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner. And given that the King prioritized national security, he purchased billions of dollars worth of defense equipment from the United States to protect the nation.

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[SUSRIS] Describe the impact King Abdullah has had on you.

[Edrees] I did not have the opportunity to meet King Abdullah in person. However, I can say that King Abdullah has given me one of the best gifts in life—the gift of education. KASP covered tuition for academic programs, offered a monthly stipend, and granted health insurance for all students who were enrolled.

As a recipient of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, I had the opportunity to complete my doctorate in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. This program was unique in that it fostered intellectual development and promoted cultural exchange between the Kingdom and the international community.

Many of us Saudi students were fortunate in that we had the chance to complete our studies and also participate in many events and activities that continued the conversation.

[SUSRIS] What five words would you use to describe King Abdullah?

[Edrees] I don’t think that five words are enough to describe the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. However, I can say that King Abdullah was a visionary and influential leader, who valued integrity, kindness, and fairness. His generosity and support to his people and to the people of other nationalities and religions was evident in many of his initiatives.

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[SUSRIS] How should history remember King Abdullah?

[Edrees] History should remember King Abdullah as a wise leader who had dedicated his life to serve his nation and his citizens. He was known as the “King of Humanity” as he promoted world peace and strengthened ties in the Arab world and internationally. As the father of our nation, he will be remembered forever.

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Dr. Hanan Edrees is a Saudi citizen and recipient of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. She received her doctorate in Healthcare Management from the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Edrees was a project manager at the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute and has consulted for the World Health Organization during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. She holds a masters degree in Health Systems Administration from Georgetown University and a bachelors degree in Biology from George Mason University. She has participated in many conferences that aim to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Kingdom.

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