Salman is Saudi Arabia’s new king following the death of his 90-year-old half-brother, King Abdullah. The 79-year-old has been crown prince since 2012 and defence minister since 2011. He has also been standing in for the ailing Abdullah for several months by chairing cabinet meetings, representing Saudi Arabia abroad and hosting foreign dignitaries.
Following are a few insights about the new Saudi King as reported by The Guardian:
HOW IS HIS HEALTH?
Not good, but the nature of his condition is hard to verify with the secretive Saudi court. He is reported to have had at least one stroke and has lost some movement in his left arm. Rumours that he has dementia or Parkinson’s disease have been denied. He was well enough to meet US senator John McCain last week.
IS HE A REFORMER?
No. He cautioned against the speed even of King Abdullah’s tentative reform programme, which has included such “modernising” policies as extending education and granting limited new rights for women. A leaked US embassy cable from 2007 reported him saying that change had to be introduced slowly and sensitively because of Saudi Arabia’s “social and cultural factors”, including the powers of the kingdom’s numerous tribes. Karen Elliot House, the author of On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines, quoted him as saying democracy was not possible in the kingdom: “If we did every tribe would be a party and then we would be like Iraq and would have chaos.”
IS THE TRANSITION LIKELY TO BE SMOOTH?
As Salman has, in effect, already been ruling Saudi Arabia for months, it will be very much business as usual. Commentators predict the continued use of counter-terrorism laws to suppress criticism of the regime.
WHAT ARE HIS ACHIEVEMENTS?
He has a reputation for settling feuds within the large Saudi royal family. A US embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks referred to him as “often the referee in family disputes”. He is also respected for his 48-year record as governor of the capital, Riyadah, during which time the city’s population ballooned from 200,000 to 7 million. Commenting on his record as governor, Bruce Riedel, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, said: “Salman presided over this remarkable transformation with a record for good governance and a lack of corruption.” As governor, he also quietly dealt with the discipline of younger royals when they erred. “He knows where all the bodies are hidden,” Riedel said.