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Saudi King Fahd Dies

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has died. The king, who is believed to have been 82 years old, had been in increasingly poor health since suffering a stroke in 1995. He was immediately succeeded on the throne by his half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, who took over most of the daily duties involved in running the world's largest oil exporter after the late king's stroke.

King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz took over the family business known as Saudi Arabia in 1982, 50 years after his father, the legendary King Abdul Aziz al-Saud, unified the area's tribes as a modern nation.

The discovery of oil in the 1930s propelled the conservative Islamic country into the 20th Century. Export revenues fueled a construction boom and transformed the kingdom into an economic power.

Thomas Lippman, an author and scholar at Washington, D.C.'s Middle East Institute, says one of King Fahd's biggest accomplishments was his ability to safely steer Saudi Arabia through some extremely dangerous times in an unstable region.

"So one way or another [King] Fahd managed to maintain the regional balance in a way that maintained stability in Saudi Arabia, except of course to his later regret he had to go outside Saudi Arabia to invite the United States in to help protect the country after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait [1990]," said Mr. Lippman.

Inviting non-Muslims onto land considered the birthplace of Islam outraged Islamic extremists, including the Saudi-born al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden cited the American troops as a main provocation when he attacked the United States in 2001, and later struck inside Saudi Arabia.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on extremists in the kingdom and has been an active partner in the global war on terror.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates David Mack predicts there will be a smooth transition of power to the new king.

"There are many people who believe that with the passing of King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah is going to move forward in a more assertive way with internal reforms such as empowerment of women, progress towards some kind of elected political institutions, major economic and legal reforms, reforms of the educational system," he said.

Ambassador Mack says the most notable part of King Fahd's legacy was his close relationship with the United States and the West. He adds that in many senses he was a modernizing monarch, who was in tune with the ideas of progress, but held back because of internal opposition from key parts of the Saudi establishment.