Saudi Arabian officials were on a PR offensive Thursday following a report that claimed King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, 86, had suffered a heart attack after speaking to US President Barack Obama about the protests in Egypt.
The initial report, which alleged that the incident went unreported due to political sensitivities in the region, came from the Islam Times.
The site did not appear to be one that traffics in conspiracy theories, although at least one of the links on their front page pointed to an article that examined the beliefs of a Sept. 11 theorist by the name of “Michael Everyman.” Another claimed that Egypt’s embattled president had escaped from the presidential palace to an unnamed air force base.
Other stories appeared to show a greater emphasis on original reporting by the publication, with extensive coverage in Middle Eastern countries.
“King Abdullah talked with Obama about the situation in Egypt over the phone yesterday,” they wrote. “Obama and the King got into a heated debate about their opinions of what Hosni Mubarak should do. After the phone call sources stated that King Abdullah was furious and then suffered a sudden heart attack.
“Doctors ran to his resuce but were unable to save him. He was pronounced dead, but his death was not reported due to the sensative [sic] conditions that exist in the region. The Saudi Arabian government will reject this claim; but the ball is in their court to prove that he is alive.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was quick to offer a rebuttal. Noting the king had just returned from Morocco following an alleged surgery on his back, he claimed Abdullah was in “excellent” health and anxious to return home.
“The doctors are suggesting a certain amount of therapy and he’s doing twice as much as they tell him,” al-Faisal said. “He is his usual self, assured of what he can do and ready and looking forward to going back to work and going back home.”
In the phone call with President Obama, which did indeed take place, Abdullah reportedly warned his US counterpart against humiliating Egypt’s president.
President Obama has said repeatedly that President Mubarak must begin “now” on a “transition” of power.
Though Mubarak initially said he’d serve out the remainder of his term, rumors swirled Thursday that he was indeed planning to resign and hand off power to his vice president. The rumor remained unconfirmed at time of this story’s publication, but he was due to address the nation later in the evening.
In Saudi Arabia, the king’s advanced age, combined with his back hernia and recent surgeries, has raised concerns about the future of the country, which has been ruled by the Al-Saud family since 1932.
The crown prince, Abdullah’s half-brother Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz who has been defence minister since 1962, is second in line to the throne. He’s also in his mid-80s and has been slowed by what is believed to be cancer. Little seen for the past two years, Sultan returned last November from Morocco to assume control of the royal government in Abdullah’s absence.
Prince Nayef, 77, is the king’s half-brother and is third in line to the throne. He was appointed second deputy prime minister in March 2009.
Image source: US government.