Profile: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

Profile: King Salman of Saudi Arabia
4 min read
23 January, 2015
Succeeding his half-brother King Abdullah, Saudi's new king Salman brings more than half a century of political experience and represents continuity and stability.
King Salman was quick to call for Muslim unity to face grave challenges [Getty]

King Salman's accession to the throne of Saudi Arabia at the ripe age of 79 - only eleven years younger than his predecessor and half-brother, King Abdullah - represents continuity with the past and no major changes for the country.

He became minister of defence in 2011 and was named successor to the throne in 2012, when his two older brothers, Crown Princes Sultan and Nayef died within a year of each other. And while he may have been overlooked for the country's top jobs until relatively recently, he has had a long and remarkable political career.

He was governor of Riyadh for nearly 50 years, from 1963, during which time he presided over the development of the country's capital from a small desert town of 200,000 inhabitants to a major global city with a population of 7 million.

He gained a reputation for good governance and lack of corruption, and worked with both traditionalists and liberals. It also gave him plenty of experience working with the US and foreign states.

     Salman gained a reputation for good governance and lack of corruption.

The stability and continuity that Salman represents are valued by the royal family - especially after early Saudi kingdoms suffered from internal family conflicts and were exploited by foreign powers as a result. Eleven of 14 successions were contested, and the Saudis ended up in exile in Kuwait until Ibn Saud created the modern kingdom in 1902.

Salman will be popular, as the Arab world faces some of its worst violence in decades, including the fall of the pro-Saudi government in neighbouring Yemen.


A cable published by Wikileaks revealed that, in 2007, Salman told the US ambassador that King Abdullah's social and cultural reforms had to take place slowly to avoid a conservative backlash in the kingdom.

In the same meeting he said that regional and tribal divisions meant that democracy would not be good for Saudi Arabia, and that stability in the Middle East depended on a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

He was also in charge of arbitrating disputes between quarreling members of the large royal family - most of whom are based in Riyadh. This placed him at the centre of the kingdom's power structure. He is said to have dealt effectively with family issues and kept them out of the public eye.

     Salman is said to have dealt effectively with family issues and kept them out of the public eye.

During the 1980s, Salman, collaborating with the Wahhabi clerical establishment, was responsible for amassing private funds for the mujahidin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, reportedly amounting to about $25 million per month. This private funding was key, particularly in the early days of the conflict, before the US and the Saudi state increased their financial support. 

Salman also reportedly helped raise funds for Bosnian Muslims during the war with Serbia.


Salman was born in or around 1936 in Riyadh, then a small oasis town in the middle of a new country that had not yet discovered oil. Saudi Arabia still depended on income from pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, date farming and camel herding.

He is one of the "Sudairi Seven", the seven sons born to one of the favourite wives, Hussa bint Ahmad Sudairi, of Abdulaziz bin Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia.

It is a testament to how fast the country has developed in one generation that Salman's son, Prince Sultan, became the first Arab astronaut when he flew on the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985. Prince Sultan is now responsible for tourism. Salman's other sons include Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz, Prince Faisal, governor of Medina and Prince Khaled, a Royal Saudi Air Force fighter pilot, who led the first airstrikes against the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) in Syria in 2014.

As Salman has known health issues, including having had a stroke, his successor is already known - the next in line to the throne is Crown Prince Miqrin, another "reformist" admired in Western capitals.