RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – King Fahd (search), Saudi Arabia's monarch for the last 23 years, was said to be in stable condition Saturday, a day after he was hospitalized for unspecified tests.
But in the capital, where the talk was all of his health, many people said they feared for the worst.
"I'm asking God to protect King Fahd for us and his family," said businessman Ebrahim Al-Khudair, 39. "The stability of the kingdom comes with his name."
Fahd, king since 1982, suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. His half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah (search), has been Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler since then, and is expected to become king should Fahd die.
But Saudi Arabia's strategic importance as the holder of the world's largest oil reserves and the fact that it is home to Islam's two holiest shrines means even a stable succession could impact world markets and have widespread political fallout.
In the capital, life seemed normal, with offices, schools and shops open and no extra security presence visible. The interior ministry denied earlier reports that the country was on alert, and newspapers also said no state of emergency had been declared. A previously scheduled meeting of Gulf leaders was going ahead as planned.
Fahd, who is believed to be 82, was admitted to King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh on Friday, the official Saudi Press Agency said. One official said doctors believed the monarch had pneumonia. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position.
On Saturday, medical officials said the monarch was in stable condition but they did not elaborate.
Turki Abdelaziz Al-Washmi, 27, was concerned about the seriousness of the king's condition, noting that previous hospitalizations had mentioned specific ailments.
"King Fahd is a father figure for all of us. I'm praying that he gets well soon. I pray that God gives him health," Al-Washmi said.
Saudi television station Al-Ekhbariya reported that Abdullah assured Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a phone call late Friday that Fahd's health was good and that the medical examinations were going normally.
The Saudi stock market tumbled 5 percent earlier in the week amid reports of Fahd's deteriorating health. Friday's news that he was hospitalized helped push crude oil futures to near $52 a barrel ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the start of the American summer driving season.
During his rule, Fahd brought the kingdom closer to the United States. His most significant action was a step that enraged many Islamic extremists — allowing the basing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Usama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Al Qaeda leader, cited the U.S. troops' presence as a main provocation for launching the Sept. 11 (search) attacks as well as a wave of violence inside the kingdom.
The U.S. military withdrew all its combat forces from Saudi Arabia in 2003 after major combat operations in Iraq were declared over. But a small military contingent stayed behind in a training and advisory role to Saudi armed forces.
Fahd suffered short-term memory loss and an inability to concentrate for long stretches after his stroke in 1995. With the portly, goateed Fahd largely a figurehead since then, it has been Abdullah who has overseen the kingdom's crackdown on militants. Abdullah tried to rebuild relations with the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks; 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been talking in recent months about organizing joint training exercises for U.S. and Saudi ground combat forces on Saudi territory.
Fahd is the son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz. During his rule, Fahd tried to balance overtures toward the West with concessions to hard-liners, hoping to boost his Islamic credentials. He had himself named the custodian of Islam's two holiest sites, in the western Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.