King Salman: What Challenges Does King Abdullah’s Successor Face?

Saudi Arabia holds a very unique position as one of the United States’ greatest allies in a volatile Middle East with the growing threat of ISIS. Because of that, the death of its head of state, King Abdullah, has understandably caused quite an uproar, even in the United States. Attention is now being drawn to his half-brother, King Salman, who assumed the throne upon King Abdullah’s death.

King Salman is about to face some of the worst foreign policy conundrums of the Saudi modern era, reported the New York Times. Saudi Arabia is currently quite literally surrounded by controversial and seemingly interminable conflicts, says NYT reporter Neil MacFarquhar. Yemen faces a coup, Syria is still ravaged by Civil War, Iraq is breeding ISIS, and even the comparatively stable Egypt isn’t exactly what you’d call a blooming democracy. Furthermore, says MacFarquhar, King Abdullah was against calls for democratic reform in the region, something that may force King Salman to take a similar form.

“The late King Abdullah made aggressive, often uncharacteristically open foreign policy moves to influence events in each of those arenas, particularly in the last two months when the kingdom forced world oil prices down by half. That and other Saudi foreign policy efforts since 2011 have all had one aim: to try to restore the old, autocratic order in the Middle East after a series of popular uprisings pushed one Arab country after another into chaos.”

Furthermore, King Salman will inherit a controversial decision that Saudi Arabia made to keep shop open for oil extraction even while demand dropped around the world — furthering a drop in the price. That, according to NYT, was partially to drown out enemies Iran and Russia. King Salman now must decide if the country will continue with the strategic move.

Another common gripe against King Adbullah from the Western world was his position on women’s rights. As previously reported by Inquisitr, some modest reforms were made during his reign: women gained the right to work as supermarket cashiers and a few even became lawyers, along with other minor changes.

Far-left site Think Progress reminded its readers of the claims by four of King Abdullah’s daughters that he held them “with little food and water” in run-down housing for an extended period of time, not to mention did little in the way of Saudi Arabia’s explicit law that a woman can’t do much of anything — including traveling and going to school — without a man’s approval. King Salman comes to power with unfulfilled promise from King Abdullah that women earn the right to drive.

King Salman would have to do much more than his predecessor to appease feminist critics, but NPR reports that the new king was critical of even Adbullah’s modest advances for women’s rights.

“Salman was quoted in 2007 as saying, ‘The pace and extent of reforms [like those during King Abdullah’s reign] depend on social and cultural factors.’ The reason for his approach, the cable stated, was social not religious. [Salman] said that the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] is composed of tribes and regions and if democracy were imposed, each tribe and region would have its political party,’ the cable read.”

[Image via Andrew A. Shenouda, Flickr]