RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Elderly Saudi King Abdullah is suffering from a herniated disc, the royal court announced on Friday, four days after he failed to preside over the weekly cabinet meeting.
"The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques ... is suffering from back problems which doctors diagnosed as a herniated disc," said a brief statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
"Doctors have advised him to rest as part of his therapy," it said, adding that the announcement followed the monarch's "principle of transparency."
The 86-year-old king has curtailed his activities since June with no clear explanation, although diplomats have said they understood he was fatigued.
On Monday his half brother, second deputy prime minister and interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, chaired the cabinet meeting with no explanation why the king was absent.
The slipping or rupturing of one of the discs in the spine, a herniated disc, is not life-threatening and is usually treated by rest, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Nevertheless, the report of the king's ailment underscored the growing attention by analysts and foreign governments to eventual political changes looming for Saudi Arabia, the leading supplier of petroleum to the globe and a key political player in the Middle East.
The royals who have dominated the government for 30 years or more are all aged and have taken treatment for various health problems, usually never defined, during the past year.
The first deputy prime minister, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, his age estimated at 84 or 85, has been in Morocco since the end of August "on holiday," according to official statements.
Sultan, also defence minister since 1962, was treated for cancer in the United States in 2008-2009 and spent more than a year in the US and Morocco convalescing.
Prince Nayef, 76, Sultan's full brother and considered second in line for the throne, has also undergone unspecified treatment in the past year. Nayef has been interior minister for 35 years.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, 70, the foreign minister for 35 years, has serious back problems and was absent for treatment in the United States during the past year, according to diplomats.
Other key royals, including veteran Riyadh governor Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and national security council head Prince Bandar bin Sultan -- the former ambassador in Washington -- have also spent long stretches abroad for unspecified treatment in the past two years.
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