Saudi Arabia's Way Forward

Why King Salman Is the Past, Not the Future

Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, February 18, 2014. Yuya Shino / Courtesy Reuters

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz will be remembered for his relatively reformist mindset and bold foreign policy initiatives. But the Saudi leader’s passing will have little to no impact on the Kingdom’s future, especially given the set of increasingly difficult challenges the country will have to face at home and abroad.

Leadership matters, especially in the Middle East, where institutions are weak and often nonexistent. But charisma and talent, on their own, won’t be enough to dig Saudi Arabia out of the profound generational problems that go beyond Abdullah, his successor Salman, or any leader who will preside over the Kingdom. Diversifying the economy, reducing unemployment, practicing good governance, further empowering women, combating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), checking Iran’s advances, improving relations with Washington, stabilizing Yemen, and leading the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—to name just a few—will require team work.

Abdullah didn’t try it alone, neither will the new king. If Salman is hoping for good results, he, with the help of his youngest brother, Prince Muqrin, whom Salman immediately appointed as the new crown prince, will have to create and manage a team of younger and more effective professionals who are in tune with the latest regional and global trends and know something or two about the demands of the twenty-first century. That, ultimately, is Salman’s biggest responsibility. He is already 79 and not in the best condition (rumors of dementia are unproven but he does have other health issues), so he should use what could be a relatively short stint in office to lay the groundwork for the next generation of Saudi leadership. Even though Salman has barely spent 48 hours in his new position, he is indeed Saudi Arabia’s past, not its future.

After all, although it was delivered via Twitter, one of Salman’s first messages was that he would honor the economic policies of his predecessor. Salman is thought to be a reformer himself, having

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