King Abdullah received oaths of loyalty from hundreds of top Islamic clerics, tribal chiefs and other prominent Saudis on Wednesday in a traditional Islamic investiture ceremony that bestows his legitimacy.
Members of the Supreme Council of Senior Islamic clerics were the first to file by Abdullah in a Riyadh palace, shake his hand and pronounce their allegiance to him as Saudi Arabia’s sixth king.
The House of Saud has depended on the support of clerics from the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi version of Islam ever since Abdullah’s father, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, welded the Arabian peninsula tribes into a nation under his name in 1932.
Hundreds of tribal chiefs, religious clerics, government officials and uniformed senior armed forces officers waited in the big hall of the palace, covered with silk carpets, for their turn to honor Abdullah. A palace servant swung an incense burner among them to bless the gathering.
In the ceremony, known as “bayah,” each one shakes Abdullah’s hand and pronounces, “I express my allegiance to you. I hear and obey, except in what would disobey God.” It has its roots in the succession after the death of Islam’s prophet Muhammed in the 7th century, when the caliphs that followed him received the support of the Muslim community personally.
Security was tight, with armed agents wandering the hall, wearing traditional white robes and red headdresses, toting automatic weapons and loops of ammunition.
Vice President Dick Cheney was headed to the kingdom, a close U.S. ally, and was expected to meet Abdullah later Wednesday.
Before the ceremony, Abdullah received Britain’s Prince Charles and other Western dignitaries. Abdullah, dressed in white robes and headdress and cream-colored cloak, sat chatting with Charles, who expressed his condolences for the death of King Fahd and his congratulations for Abdullah’s ascension to the throne. Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, sat nearby translating.
The Saudi monarch also met Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, the Swiss president and other Western dignitaries, who had been unable to attend funeral ceremonies a day earlier for Fahd, which were closed to non-Muslims.
Fahd, the country’s absolute monarch since 1982, died early Monday at age 84 after nearly two months in a Riyadh hospital. He had been leader in name only the last decade, following a debilitating stroke in 1995.