2015 Archives

New Saudi ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz


The following are from the Jan. 22, 2015, edition of Reuters news service and the Jan. 25, 2014, edition of The New York Times. Robert Jordan, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Diplomat-in-Residence at SMU's Tower Center for Political Studies, provided expertise for these stories.

January 26, 2015

From Reuters:

By Angus McDowall

(Reuters) - 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, thought to be 79, 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. . .

Jordan said Prince Salman had initially refused to believe Saudis participated in the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but his attitude changed in the face of increasingly solid evidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

"He doesn't blindly accept everything the United States says, but at the same time he understands the importance of the relationship, which goes beyond oil," Jordan said. 

Read the full story.

From The New York Times:


CAIRO — The rulers of Saudi Arabia trembled when the Arab Spring revolts broke out four years ago.

But far from undermining the Saudi dynasty, the ensuing chaos across the region appears instead to have lifted the monarchy to unrivaled power and influence. As a new king assumes the throne in Riyadh, the stability-first authoritarianism that the Saudis have long favored is resurgent from Tunis to Cairo to Manama. The election-minded Islamists that the Saudis once feared are on the run. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister who spearheaded the push against them, was rewarded last week with his elevation to deputy crown prince, the first in his generation in the line of succession.

The catch, analysts and diplomats say, is that the ascendance of the Saudis is largely a byproduct of the feebleness or near-collapse of so many of the states around them, including Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Tunisia. And the perseverance of the old order is largely dependent on a steady flow of Saudi resources, so their influence may be costly. . .

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died last week with a sense of vindication, analysts and diplomats say. Robert W. Jordan, a former United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said that at a social visit to the royal court a few years ago, he had thanked King Abdullah “for not saying, ‘I told you so.’ ”

The king merely chuckled. “Because the truth is he has said ‘I told you so’ many times, and he continued to tell current administration officials that we were really wrong,” said Mr. Jordan, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Among the king’s complaints, Mr. Jordan said: the urgency of the Bush administration’s promotion of democracy, the vacuum left when the Americans withdrew from Iraq, the Obama administration’s embrace of the Arab Spring revolts, and particularly the failure to fulfill threats of military action against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

“The Saudis don’t want to show weakness. They don’t want to show vulnerability to the winds of change in a way that might invite those changes,” Mr. Jordan said, sympathizing somewhat with the Saudi desire to “manage the change rather than have it forced upon them.”

“What would Saudi Arabia look like without the royal family? It would look like Libya, or Syria without Assad,” Mr. Jordan said.

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