Who is Saudi Arabia’s King Salman?

Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud

11 May 2015 update: King Salman won’t attend meetings with President Obama in Washington, in a sign of discontent over relations with Iran. – NYT

29 April 2015 update via NYT: King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a series of surprise royal decrees early Wednesday, shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades.

The moves show Salman is shifting further away from the legacy of his predecessor, King Abdullah, who died in January.

Excerpts from a CNN report, published 23 January 2015.

After the death of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia quickly announced that one of his younger brothers, Crown Prince Salman, was succeeding him.

The man taking control of the world’s top oil exporter is well established in the Gulf kingdom’s corridors of power.

Salman, 79, is “a stalwart of the royal family” who is “viewed as a pragmatic and cautious reformer, much like his predecessor,” says CNN’s Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi.

He has served as defense minister and deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia, a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, for years. Like Abdullah, he’s one of the dozens of sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz.

Saudi king Salman family

The Saudi royal family. Source: Reuters.

Here are some of the key points about the new ruler.

1. He’s an experienced leader

Salman was governor of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for nearly five decades during a period of significant change.

“When he became governor in 1963, Riyadh had 200,000 inhabitants — today it has more than seven million,” Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said in a commentary. “Salman presided over this remarkable transformation with a record for good governance and a lack of corruption.”

“He had to be a combination … of a reformer, of a judge, a jury in some cases, and deal with dissent, as well as dealing with economic issues,” Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told CNN. “So I think he’s well prepared for the task at hand.”

Salman’s experience running Riyadh also involved keeping many of the numerous members of the Saudi royal family in line.

“Since most of the royal princes and princesses live in Riyadh, he was also the family sheriff, ensuring any transgressions were dealt with smoothly and quietly, with no publicity,” said Riedel, who worked for the CIA for 30 years.

His national roles have since brought him wider responsibility.

Salman “has been chairing cabinet meetings for several months and handling almost all foreign travel responsibilities for the monarchy since he became the heir in 2012,” Riedel said.

Saudi king The Economist

The Saudi family tree. Source: The Economist London

2. He’s unlikely to rock the boat

Salman’s ascension to the throne is in line with the appointments put in place by Abdullah before his death.

“I think that you’ll see a continuation — very similar policies, very similar dynamics unfolding,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “The kingdom is modernizing; it’s changing, it’s reforming and it will continue to do so over the next several decades.”

3. There are concerns about his health

Salman is one of Abdullah’s younger brothers. But at 79, he’s not particularly young.

There are unconfirmed reports that he may have various health problems. But with Saudi Arabian media tightly controlled by the state, nobody’s really sure what his condition is.

Prime Minister Sharif with His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

4. He has a successor waiting in the wings

Salman’s first order after assuming the throne was to appoint his youngest brother, Prince Muqrin, as the new crown prince.

Analysts see that appointment as an effort to ensure future stability. Abdullah had named Muqrin as deputy crown prince in March.

At 69 years old, Muqrin is relatively youthful. A former head of intelligence for the kingdom, he is also reportedly well-liked by world leaders.

Muqrin “has been closely linked to Abdullah and his policies of modernization and reform,” according to Cordesman.

But the succession plan isn’t without its critics. Muqrin’s mother does not have royal blood, which is a sticking point for some people in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman

The Saudi royal family. Source: The Washington Post.

5. His sons include an astronaut and a fighter pilot

Several of Salman’s sons also hold prominent positions.

They include Prince Sultan, who in the 1980s became the first Muslim astronaut and is now the president of Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority; Prince Abdulaziz, the deputy oil minister; and Prince Faisal, the governor of the Madinah region.

Another son, Prince Khaled, was reportedly among the pilots who carried out the first airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria last year.

An official biography contained one nugget about his youth: he had memorized the Quran by the age of 10, it said.

Read in full, with a video: By Jethro Mullen, CNN

 Elsewhere on our blog:

Saudi Arabia is building the world’s tallest tower

Saudi men banned from marrying Pakistani women

Scientists question Saudi openness on deadly MERS virus outbreak

UK to build permanent naval base in Bahrain

Pakistanis to receive visa-on-arrival in Bahrain from January

The Bahrain side not many people know of

Pakistanis are now eligible to apply for Bahrain eVisas


  1. Rumours are that the new king suffers from Alzheimer’s. Octogenarian rule seems to be KSA’s destiny for some time.

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