Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, acceded to the throne on the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, on January 23.
King Salman, 79, was governor of Riyadh province for 48 years before becoming defense minister in 2011 and crown prince a year later.
He had already taken on the duties of the king as Abdullah’s health faded.
King Salman is part of an influential faction within the royal family formed of sons and grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz (usually referred to as Ibn Saud) by a favorite wife, Princess Hassa al-Sudairi.
After the deaths of the former king, Fahd, who ruled from 1982 until 2005, and two previous crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, Salman was already the most powerful surviving member of this faction.
The post raised Salman’s international profile as he hosted visiting VIPs and envoys and helped secure foreign investment.
As defense minister Salman was head of the Saudi military as it joined the US and other Arab countries in air strikes in Syria in 2014 against the Islamic State militant group.
King Salman’s sons include:
- Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz
- Prince Faisal, the governor of Medina
- Prince Sultan, the head of the tourism authority and a former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot and astronaut.
King Salman is not believed to be as personally interested in political or social reform as his predecessor and his priority will be to maintain stability in Saudi Arabia.
Commentators have drawn attention to King Salman’s reputation as a mediator within the huge Saudi royal family, with its complex network of competing factions.
This task has become more fraught as the second tier of senior political posts in Saudi Arabia – the control of key ministries and governorships – has passed from the sons to grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz.
King Salman’s own Sudairi faction within the family, once a powerful and united group of seven full brothers, has itself developed internal rivalries as the sons of those brothers establish their own power bases.
The king’s health has also been a concern. He is reported to have suffered at least one stroke that has left him with limited movement in his left arm.
Correspondents say King Salman has appeared alert and well-briefed in recent meetings but, given his age, there are concerns about his stamina.
After becoming king, Salman announced that the new crown prince would be his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest surviving son of the late King Abdulaziz.
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