Saudi Arabia: King Salman Faces the 21st Century

Sandhya Jain is Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. The current Essay is part of her ongoing research on Balochistan province of Pakistan. The views expressed are personal.
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  • May 2015

    Since assuming the throne on January 23, 2015 following the death of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, King Salman, seems to have set about the task of shaking up the ultraconservative kingdom. The punishment or pardoning of Raef Badawi became the litmus test of the new Saudi monarch’s reign as the blogger’s sentence coincided with the last days of the ailing King Abdullah and King Salman was compelled to face his personal past as promoter of Islamic fundamentalism abroad. As the new court takes modest steps to burnish the regime’s human rights record, postponing Badawi’s second round of 50 lashes and releasing his colleague Souad al-Shammari (arrested in October 2014), the offshoots spawned by Wahhabi extremist ideology could still push the desert kingdom over the brink. The new king’s unenviable task is to lead the country into the 21st century while preserving the monarchy, retaining the Wahhabi creed from which it derives legitimacy while somehow containing its troublesome fallout. As borders crumble around Saudi Arabia, this is clearly a tall order.