King Abdullah Arrives Home Amid Massive Celebrations
By Siraj Wahab in Riyadh
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s return home sparked celebrations among Saudis and expatriates alike. The nation’s capital has become the site of an impromptu festival. King Abdullah arrived in his homeland on Wednesday after three months abroad. He had gone to New York on November 22 and underwent surgery two days later for a debilitating herniated disc complicated by a haematoma.
The iconic Faisaliah Tower on Riyadh's Olaya Street was bathed in green light symbolizing the Saudi flag, and the streets are filled with people carrying Saudi flags along with posters of King Abdullah. As the king's plane touched down, jet fighters of the Saudi Royal Air Force jets took to the sky to perform spectacular aerobatics, forming the Kingdom’s national symbol of crossed swords over a palm tree with their contrails. Men in white garb performed a traditional Saudi dance called "ardha" while well-wishers including women and children waited to see their ruler.
Happy onlookers cheered as the jets performed their aerobatic display. “We are very happy because our leader is back among us,” said an elderly man celebrating near the historic Masmak Fort in the city's old quarters. “My son is even happier because he works for the government, and King Abdullah has announced fabulous pay hikes for government employees,” he said. “I worked in the past for the military as a maintenance technician, and I am told that our king has raised the amount of pension to all retirees. That is an additional reason for me to celebrate,” he said smiling broadly.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mahmoud Fallata who works with Saudi Telecom Co. said he has never seen such happiness in his lifetime. “Everybody is cheering. Everyone at home is glued to television sets watching each and every story about our king. Our company and other telecom companies have announced huge reductions in call rates and text message charges,” he said. “At home and at school children are chanting 'Baba Abdullah, Baba Abdullah'. It’s like an Eid celebration,” he said,
As the evening wore on hundreds of smiling Saudi youths took to the streets, which were filled by 3 p.m. For Saudis, Wednesday is the beginning of the weekend, but the government declaration of a holiday Saturday has given everyone an extended weekend.
Expatriates also were jubilant. “There is something unique about this king. Ever since he took over, the Kingdom has been blessed with great prosperity. Masha-Allah,” said Atta Shukri, a pharmacist from Egypt. “When I landed here nine years ago, the economy seemed in a bad shape. Today,Saudi Arabia has emerged as the most financially stable country in the world ... All this is thanks to the prudent policies of King Abdullah,” he said.
“As an expat who has been given the opportunity to earn a living here, I feel very happy at this moment,” said Pakistani schoolteacher Shakir Moyeen. “It is such a nice feeling to see happiness written large on the faces of our hosts. They are smiling and exchanging greetings. That this king is so popular is evident from the faces and body language of the Saudis.”
For King Saud University student Wael Abdul Rahman, the return of King Abdullah means he has to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah to say thanksgiving prayers. “I had taken this vow that I would perform Umrah when our beloved king returned hale and hearty. Today, I have to honor that pledge. I am leaving Wednesday night to Makkah. I can’t describe my happiness,” he said.
In sharp contrast to some countries where young people have taken to the streets calling on unresponsive governments for needed reforms, many young Saudis hold that King Abdullah is the leader of the Kingdom’s reform movement.
“For us young Saudis, this king has meant a lot. He has taken special care of us. He announced so many scholarships — sent so many students abroad to study, and more importantly he restored the image of Saudis in the eyes of the world,” he said. “After 9/11 we were seen with lot of suspicion. He gave us confidence and taught us the values of moderation and won the respect of the world with his interfaith dialogue and national dialogue initiatives."