Balance of power in question after Saudi Arabian king dies

January 29th, 2015


Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the sixth king of Saudi Arabia, died on Friday, Jan. 23 at age 90, according to The Washington Post. The king had been admitted to a Riyadh hospital on Dec. 31 due to a lung infection.


According to The New York Times, the royal family moved quickly after Abdullah’s death to enlist his brother, Crown Prince Salman, as the seventh king of Saudi Arabia.


The quick decision was expedited to ensure a smooth transition of power in order to maintain Saudi Arabia’s stability.


The Washington Post reported that Abdullah’s political shrewdness labeled him a reformer, without him drastically changing his country’s power structure.


He was simultaneously able to maintain successful relationships with the United States, as well as forge an independent course in foreign policy.


According to The New York Times, Abdullah was responsible for recent cuts in oil prices by almost half due to his aggressive policy moves and decisions regarding other Middle Eastern countries.


The new king plans to continue the current foreign relations policies in hopes of bringing stability and order back to the Middle East.


The New York Times also reported that Abdullah was an instrumental part of restoring the old, autocratic order in the Middle East as one country after another fell into chaos and civil unrest.


Abdullah was also credited with the virtual eradication of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, as well as stabilizing the Middle East. He worked toward reforms in an incremental way, maintaining the integrity of the kingdom’s power structure, according to the BBC.


As Prince Salman ascends to the throne, his rule is in question due to various health issues.


According to The Washington Post, Salman’s transition, while relatively smooth, may result in a relatively short rule, due to his dementia.


The Washington Post reported that while Salman is free to choose his own successor, a potential power struggle for the throne could leave a power vacuum in the Middle East at a crucial time.


The situation in the Middle East for Saudi Arabia has become increasingly difficult, even as the previous king’s health declined, according to The New York Times.


The government of Yemen collapsed, and Saudi Arabian efforts to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria created a fatal spillover, with fighters from the extremist Islamic State group recently carrying out a bloody suicide bombing on the Saudi border with Iraq.


The New York Times also reported that Egypt appears to be stabilizing under a new military regime, largely because of Saudi Arabia’s $12 billion in support.


Additionally, Iran is becoming an even bigger threat. The country continues to expand its influence and seems to be on the verge of repairing its relations with the West if a deal about the disputed nuclear program can be reached, according to The New York Times.


Relationships with the United States were acceptable until King Abdullah felt President Obama was ignoring the region.

King Abdullah,

The New York Times reported that a leaked 2008 diplomatic memo contained details of Abdullah encouraging Obama to handle Iran aggressively and consider military action.


The Saudi Arabian government has been  increasingly concerned with Washington coming to terms with Iran, but is pleased with the divide between Congress and the White House over more sanctions.


Relationships between Saudi Arabia and Americans have been satisfactory with occasional disagreements.


This relationship, which was first formed under Abdullah, is likely to continue under the new king.


Editor’s Note: Information from The New York Times, The Washington Post and the BBC was used in this report.