Saudi Arabia’s New King Salman to follow in brother Abdullah’s footsteps

January 23, 2015 7:44 am
Late Kin Abdullah(right) New King Salman(left)

’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz – the powerful U.S. ally  has
died aged 90.The royal had been in the hospital since December,
battling pneumonia.Abdullah will be buried today following Muslim
tradition that a burial should take place within 24 hours of death.
King Abdullah’s half-brother Salman, 79, has become king.A statement released by the new king read:

 ‘His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the
family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1am this morning.’

New King Salman has been crown prince and defense minister since 2012.
He was governor of Riyadh province for five decades before that.Salman
bin Abdulaziz, who was named crown prince in June 2012, was Abdullah’s
third heir to the throne after two elder brothers died in late 2011 and
mid-2012. As the new King of Saudi Arabia, home to 28 million people, he
will also serve as Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

But the 79-year-old has reportedly been in poor health in recent years,
and is perhaps unlikely to rule for as long as his elder sibling.King
Salman’s crown prince will be his younger brother Prince Muqrin, the
youngest surviving son of King Abdulaziz

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has died and will be
replaced by Crown Prince Salman, the OPEC-kingpin’s royal court said in a
statement. He was 90.
The late monarch’s half brother Moqren was named crown prince, according to the statement.
King Abdullah, left, speaks with Prince Salman, right. Photo / AP
Abdullah, believed to be around 90 years old, was hospitalised in
December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of
a tube.
He died on Friday “at 1:00 am (2200 GMT)” and would be buried later in the day following afternoon prayers, said the statement.
recent years, his advanced age and poor health had raised concerns
about the future leadership of one of the world’s key oil producers.

Abdullah’s half-brother Salman, 79, was named crown prince
in June 2012 following the death of Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz. Salman
had been representing the king at most recent public events because of
the monarch’s poor health.
In March 2014, King Abdullah named his
half-brother Prince Moqren as a second crown prince, in an
unprecedented move aimed at smoothing succession hurdles. Moqren, who
was born in 1945, is the youngest of Abdulaziz’s sons.
Since the
death in 1952 of King Abdulaziz al-Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia,
the throne has systematically passed from one of his sons to another.
But many of them are old or have died.

Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia presided over his
oil-rich, deeply religious and often divided nation at a time of
unprecedented upheaval in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
When he
succeeded to the throne, and the equally important office of Custodian
of the Two Holy Mosques, he had already been de facto ruler for 10
years. His half-brother King Fahd, whom he eventually succeeded, had
suffered a debilitating stroke after years of well-documented high
As Crown Prince, Abdullah therefore had to deal with the
fallout from the 9/11 attacks on America, for which his subjects were
largely responsible as both perpetrators and inspiration.
distrust of America and the West set him apart from Fahd and other
predecessors; but those differences also laid the path for a man who had
won high political regard in his youth as a conservative to establish a
distinctive, and decidedly more liberal, approach to governance as
He tried to liberalise the country’s economy, and became
known as something of an advocate for women (within Saudi Arabia’s
harsh traditional constraints), promoting female education, and
appointing a woman minister, and even 30 women to the Shura, the
national advisory council.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, left, stands next to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Prince Charles. Photo / AP
plans for faster reform, though, were scuppered by the “Arab Spring”.
The combination of pro-democracy activism in the Arab world, supported
by Saudi Arabia’s traditional western allies, and the rise of the Muslim
Brotherhood, was the Sauds’ worst nightmare come true.
months, King Abdullah had signed off on a reversion to traditional
authoritarianism, jailing human rights workers, lawyers and promoters of
political Islam, and refusing to give ground on the increasingly
symbolic issue of the ban on women drivers.
He clashed with US
President Barack Obama over the latter’s reaching out to Saudi Arabia’s
regional rival Iran, and moved decisively to topple Egypt’s first
democratically elected president, the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi,
backing General Abdulfattah al-Sisi’s military coup in 2013.

Abdullah’s life

Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud was born in 1923, the 13th of more than 35 sons
of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. He received a
court education in religion, chivalry and politics, being tutored in
Koranic schools and by the ulemas (religious teachers), but supplemented
this with his own reading in many different fields. He became known as
more personally religious than some men in the family, who pursued
greater pleasures abroad than they allowed at home, but was never at the
extreme end of the country’s severely Wahhabi religious establishment.
merits and future leadership role were recognised in 1962, when the
then Crown Prince Faisal appointed him head of the National Guard, while
naming his half-brother and rival Prince Sultan as minister of defence.
Sultan and Fahd were leading members of the so-called Sudairi Seven
full brothers, and the balancing act initiated then, between the
personally conservative but politically reformist Prince Abdullah, and
the politically conservative and pro-American Sudairis, came to dominate
Saudi politics over successive decades.
Sultan became Crown
Prince to Abdullah on his accession, and although he died in 2011, both
the current Crown Prince, Salman, and the next in line after him, Prince
Muqrin, are also Sudairis.
Prince Abdullah emerged as an
important public voice for the Saud family in 1969, calling for the
execution of air force officers who had mounted an abortive coup. His
opposition to the westernising proclivities of Fahd and Sultan was
pronounced from that time. He also condoned the execution of Princess
Mishail, the royal adulteress whose story was featured in the British
television documentary Death of a Princess.
Meanwhile, he sought
to consolidate his power base by modernising the National Guard, an
internal security force recruited from a network of tribal settlements
to form a countrywide force of Bedouin. It became known as the White
Army, because its members wore their own thobes (flowing garments)
instead of khaki uniforms. Under his leadership the National Guard
bought a complete telecommunications system of its own and placed
valuable contracts with Cable & Wireless, as well as building a
private cradle-to-grave health service for its members and their
King Abdullah. Photo / AP
Abdullah was named second deputy prime minister after King Khalid
succeeded to the monarchy on the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.
He broadened his outlook with visits to the United States, Britain,
Spain and France, but unlike other members of the royal family he was
never comfortable in the West, preferring the company of Bedouin
tribesmen. Like most Saudi royals he was a keen falconer.
1979 uprising by religious fanatics, resulting in a bloody siege at the
Grand Mosque in Mecca, propelled Prince Abdullah into the limelight. The
incident emphasised the vulnerability of the pro-Western modernisers
led by Fahd, then Crown Prince, to the charge that they had neglected
Islamic values.
After 1980 Prince Abdullah’s picture was spread
across newspapers and public buildings, and his long-time opposition to
rapid modernisation and closer relations with the US was seemingly
vindicated by the collapse of oil prices in the early 1980s which
plunged Saudi Arabia into recession.
During the Iran-Iraq war of
the 1980s Prince Abdullah was sent in search of new allies for the
Saudis, who felt increasingly vulnerable after the Islamic revolution in
Iran. Prince Abdullah’s mother belonged to an important family of the
Shammar tribe, whose lands and relationships extend into Syria and Iraq.
He became a useful tool for Saudi diplomacy with hard-line Arab states,
especially Syria, where he enjoyed the confidence of President Hafiz
That relationship was reflected in his repeated attempts
to come to terms with President Assad’s son and successor Bashar –
attempts which ended with a breakdown in relations so extreme that the
Saudis took the lead in trying to engineer his overthrow in the ongoing
civil war.
As Crown Prince, his conservatism and reputation as a
man of principle put him in a much stronger position than either of his
predecessors, Kings Khalid and Fahd, to embark on a process of cautious
political reform, aimed at moving Saudi Arabia away from traditional
religious-tribal loyalties and faith-based obscurantism into the modern
He became the first senior Saudi figure to speak publicly of
reform and democracy, and to acknowledge the existence of minorities,
notably the Shia, in the kingdom. He initiated the kingdom’s first
elections which, though limited to local government and excluding women,
struck a chord with most Saudis. He was also credited with the purging
of more than 3,000 extremist preachers from mosques and Koranic schools,
the creation of a human rights commission, and the hosting of a series
of public debates on women’s rights.
US President George W. Bush greets Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2005. Photo / AP
King, Abdullah won respect for his drive to stamp out graft. He
continued on the path of cautious reform, which he balanced with a
respect for Saudi tradition. He pushed changes aimed at creating jobs by
liberalising markets and loosening the grip of religious hardliners
over education and social policy, in particular encouraging provision
for female education, especially at university level.
In 2009 he
fired the hard-line Sheikh Saad Bin Naser al-Shethri from the country’s
high council of religious scholars after the cleric had criticised his
decision to allow male and female researchers to work together at the
new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, built outside
Jeddah, which Abdullah saw as a key part of Saudi Arabia’s drive towards
economic modernisation. In 2012 he replaced the head of Saudi Arabia’s
religious police, the “mutawa”, with a new man widely seen as more
moderate than his predecessor.
He also promised Saudi women the
vote and the right to stand in future elections to municipal councils,
the highest elected bodies in the country; and in 2013 he appointed 30
women to the consultative 150-member Shura Council. Critics, however,
dismissed the move as little more than a symbolic gesture, in that local
and municipal elections, and the Shura Council, have an extremely
limited effect on national political decision-making. Neither did the
king accede to demands that women be given the right to drive – a move
that might have allowed them to campaign in their putative

Foreign affairs

foreign affairs, Abdullah’s reign was widely noted for deteriorating
relations with Saudi Arabia’s key western ally, the United States, after
the election of Barack Obama. In reality, Saudi Arabia’s anger over
America’s abandonment of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, its perceived support
for the Muslim Brotherhood, and the reaching out to Iran rather than
confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear programme, was an extension of the
king’s already established dislike of how Washington conducted policy.
He is known to have felt betrayed by the failure of President George W
Bush to pursue a resolution to the Palestinian question, and Saudi
Arabia did not support the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Pope Benedict XVI welcomes King Abdullah at the Vatican. Photo / AP
was certainly not prepared to allow American idealistic sentiment to
cloud his judgment in his own back yard, sending Saudi tanks into
Bahrain to put down pro-democracy uprisings led by that country’s Shia
majority in March 2011, and ruthlessly wiping out a growing domestic
civil rights movement as the contagion of Arab protest spread. He
reverted to the traditional method of governmental largesse to dissuade
the Saudi people from pursuing their own “Spring”.
Saudi Arabia’s
careful pursuit of its own goals while maintaining the all-important
military alliance with America reached its apogee with its support for
carefully chosen rebel groups in Syria that would conform to
Washington’s demands when it came to fighting al-Qaeda and its offshoots
while remaining loyal to Riyadh’s vision of itself as undisputed leader
of the Sunni Muslim world.
The deepest cause of US-Saudi discord
was the American administration’s growing rapprochement with Iran,
whose nuclear ambitions Abdullah regarded as a mortal threat to Saudi
Arabia. A leaked diplomatic cable from 2008 disclosed his pithy advice
to America, demanding that it “cut off the head of the snake”. Instead,
Obama chose to talk to the serpent; worse, he reached a deal in November
2013 when, after months of secret diplomacy, Iran agreed to observe
temporary limits on its nuclear programme.

Shrinking circle of ageing princes

detected two significant factors behind the cooling of relations, which
also remain the greatest challenges to Saudi Arabia’s stability and
future prospects of gradual reform. The Saudi economy has failed to
diversify from its dependence on hydrocarbons, while a growing
percentage of oil production is consumed by domestic energy needs. At
the same time America’s domestic energy boom is steadily reducing its
dependence on Saudi oil, a fact which may or may not have been a factor
in Saudi Arabia’s apparently self-defeating recent decision to
precipitate a collapse in the price of oil.
King Abdullah. Photo / AP
there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s standing in the world in general,
and the West in particular, has been weakened by the perception that it
is ruled by a shrinking circle of ageing princes, resistant to the
modern world and the true needs of its people.
That image is
partly unfair – the kingdom remains far more politically and socially
diverse than the outside world is allowed to see. But the Saudi throne
continues to be passed between the sons of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, as it
has been since his death in 1953, the youngest of whom, Prince Muqrin,
69, is now in line to become Crown Prince . Abdullah’s chosen successor,
Crown Prince Salman, is unwell and is likely to reign in name only.
Many of the vast generation of Ibn Saud’s grandsons waiting in the wings
are now grandfathers themselves, and no transparent mechanism has
emerged to divine who might be the first of that generation to succeed.
Abdullah was said to have had more than 30 wives, though not all at the
same time – so many that during one religious festival he rented an
entire hotel at Taif for a grand reunion of his children and former
wives. He had at least 15 sons and 20 daughters.
A book of
photographs published by the king’s son-in-law Prince Faisal portrayed a
rather homely man variously swigging from a can of Diet 7-Up, teasing
his youngest children, wearing a colourful Hawaiian shirt, scrabbling
for truffles in the desert with a long-handled trowel and playing boules
(which he was always allowed to win).

Saudi King Salman
Saudi King Salman. Photo / AP
King Salman, who succeeded his half-brother Abdullah on his death, is a
79-year-old stalwart of the royal family credited with transforming the
capital Riyadh during his half-century as governor.
Abdullah, Salman is seen as a moderate with a reputation for austerity,
hard work and discipline, especially in his role overseeing the hundreds
of young princes in the royal family.
Recent years have seen
concerns over his health after operations on his back, but Salman took
on an increasingly high-profile role as Abdullah’s own health issues
forced him from the limelight.
Born on December 31, 1935, Salman
is the 25th son of the desert kingdom’s founder Abdulaziz bin Saud and a
prominent member of a formidable bloc of brothers known as the Sudairi
seven, after their mother Hassa bin Ahmed al-Sudairi.
He is the sixth son of Abdulaziz to become king of the arid, oil-rich nation.
was appointed governor of Riyadh province at the age of only 20, in
line with a tradition of putting royal family members in charge of key
He is considered the architect of the development of
Riyadh from a desert backwater to a modern metropolis, balancing the
historic power of the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The governorship
“allowed him to serve as a generally very well respected arbiter of
al-Saud family affairs, as well as overseeing the city’s emergence,”
said Eleanor Gillespie of the London-based Gulf States Newsletter.
“Salman has a reputation for probity and for being ‘clean’ when it comes to money,” Gillespie said.
only took on his first ministerial post — as defence minister — in
2011 following the death of his brother Prince Sultan.
He was
officially named crown prince following the death of the previous heir
apparent, Nayef, in June 2012 and undertook a series of visits to
Western and Asian nations.
He has since developed solid ties with
foreign partners and “is probably Western policy-makers’ favourite
choice when it comes to future kings”, Gillespie said.
Said to be
a hard worker who arrives in the office every day at 7:00 am sharp,
Salman also has a reputation for accessibility, holding court three
times a week.
“He is a man of dialogue who always preferred to
solve problems amicably,” said Anwar Eshki, the director of the
Jeddah-based Middle East Institute for Strategic Studies.
prefers moderation” in internal and foreign policy and “follows in the
steps of Abdullah”, who was a keen reformer, said Eshki.
Salman is also in charge of the many young princes in the royal family, who “respect and fear him”, Eshki said.

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