Saudi Arabia’s King Salman faces a number of challenges

Assumed the throne on the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan 23, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away after a protracted illness early Friday morning, was laid to rest at the Al-Oud cemetery in Riyadh later in the day. King Abdullah was hospitalized late in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a respirator since.

Immediately after his death, and after pledges of allegiance by the royal family, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz assumed the throne and nominated Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as the Crown Prince. The immediate, hassle-free transfer of power was an indication of continuity and stability in this otherwise very volatile region.

King Salman introduces the next generation

The new king’s nomination of interior minister Prince Mohammad bin Naif bin Abdulaziz as deputy crown prince and second deputy premier and his son Prince Mohammad bin Salman as the Defence Minister indicated a major generational change. Speculation about a possible disagreement within the royal family over the succession once the next generation started to take over has now been laid to rest.

Next in line after Crown Prince Muqrin is Prince Mohammad bin Naif, according to the royal decree issued following King Abdullah’s death.

In a televised speech after assuming the throne, King Salman said: “We will continue to hold on to the strong path on which Saudi Arabia has treaded on since King Abdulaziz.” He also called for solidarity and unity among Muslim and Arab nations vowing to continue on the same path set by the founder of the Saudi state, the late King Abdulaziz.

King Salman, credited with transforming Riyadh during his half-century as governor, has a reputation for austerity, hard work and discipline. Born on Dec. 31, 1935, he is the 25th son of King Abdul Aziz. He was appointed governor of Riyadh province at the age of 20, minister of defense in 2011 and crown prince in 2012.

Accolades from around the world have already started to pour in.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed the late King as a fierce defender of peace. A statement from the Elysee Palace paid tribute to King Abdullah, hailing “the memory of a statesman whose work has profoundly marked the history of his country.” British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the late king as a man who strengthened inter-religious dialogue in the world. U.S. President Barack Obama hailed King Abdullah as a “candid” leader who “had the courage of his convictions.”

Leaders from across the world are already converging on Riyadh to pay respects to the late leader and pass on their condolences to the new leaders and the people of Saudi Arabia. Those include Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Emir of Kuwait Shiekh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, the King of Bahrain, Egyptian prime minister Ibrahim Mohlib, President Omar Hasan Al-Bashir of Sudan and Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dessalines.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden led his nation’s delegation to the Kingdom offering condolences. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif represented his country on the occasion.

A sense of gloom seems to have taken over the Kingdom. King Abdullah was popular among his people. He was regarded as close to his roots. The New York Times wrote, “Abdullah spoke as plainly as the Bedouin tribesmen with whom he had been sent to live in his youth. He refused to be called “your majesty” and discouraged commoners from kissing his hand. He shocked the 7,000 or so Saudi princes and princesses by cutting their allowances. He was described as ascetic or as ascetic as someone in the habit of renting out entire hotels could be.”

Region in turmoil

Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Salman, is faced with a number of challenges: chaos in Yemen, the ongoing battle in Syria, the emergence of IS, the scenario in Bahrain, among them. Falling oil prices would be another issue he will have to tackle. The region surrounding Saudi Arabia is in turmoil and the heat is rising in Riyadh.

It is King Salman who will have the task of steering his country out of this imbroglio.

Rashid is an energy analyst and a widely published expert on global energy affairs. He appears regularly on BBC and other news media. He operates an energy consultancy, Husain’s Associates, from Toronto, dividing his time between Canada and the Middle East. For almost 25 years, he has served as Vice President of a leading Saudi trading and consulting house.

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