Salman named as new Saudi King

06:51 AM | 23 Jan, 2015
Salman named as new Saudi King
Share
RIYADH (APP) - The death on Friday of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah means Salman bin Abdulaziz has become the country's new ruler and the last to be born before the discovery of oil in the world's top crude exporter.

As king, Salman, 78, will have to navigate regional turmoil caused by wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as a bitter rivalry with Shi'ite Muslim power Iran and a lingering threat from an al Qaeda wing in neighboring Yemen.

His crown prince will be his youngest half brother Prince Muqrin, a former intelligence chief who was appointed as deputy crown prince in March.

A reputed moderate with a deft understanding of the competing demands of conservative clerics, powerful tribes and an increasingly youthful population, Salman will also have the final say on social and economic reforms started under Abdullah.

"It appeared to me he had a good handle on the delicate balancing act he had to do to move society forward while being respectful of its traditions and conservative ways," said Robert Jordan who was U.S. ambassador in Riyadh from 2001-03.

A physically imposing figure, Salman controls one of the Arab world's largest media groups. He believes that democracy is ill-suited to the conservative kingdom and advocates caution on social and cultural reform, according to a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

For nearly 50 years Salman was governor of Riyadh Province, a role that involved working closely with both conservative traditionalists and liberal technocrats as he oversaw the development of the Saudi capital from a small desert town to a major metropolis.

However, when two elder full-brothers, crown princes Sultan and Nayef died within a year of each other, Salman was appointed first Defense Minister and then heir apparent.

The defense portfolio involved running the kingdom's top-spending ministry, which used massive arms purchases to bolster ties with allies such as the United States, Britain and France.

He has been part of the inner circle of the al-Saud ruling family, which founded and still dominates the desert kingdom in alliance with conservative religious clerics, for decades.

In a royal family that bases its right to rule on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Salman is reputed to be devout and relatively outward-looking.

"He's intelligent, political, in touch with the conservative base but also quite modern-minded," said a former diplomat in Riyadh interviewed about the kingdom's succession process.