Where is King Salman, the 7th King of Saudi Arabia?
The Saudi king isn’t traveling like he used to
Israa Saber and Bruce Riedel. Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Since ascending the throne in January 2015, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has been a frequent traveler. In 2016, he went on a tour of surrounding Gulf countries and in 2017, he did a month-long tour of Southeast and East Asia, in addition to other international travel. This all changed in 2018. Surprisingly, King Salman has not left the kingdom since a visit to Russia in October 2017. This includes forgoing his annual month-long summer vacation in Morocco.
The sudden cease in foreign travel prompts the question: What changed? King Salman is believed to be in the early stages of dementia, and as time goes on, his condition surely worsens. Though Saudi officials continue to deny that the king’s health is in decline, recent episodes contribute to continued speculation regarding his mental state. King Salman’s speeches have become significantly shorter; his latest address to the kingdom lasted a mere eight minutes. Meetings with foreign dignitaries have also become more brief and less substantive. The king reportedly recently asked a Libyan delegation about the health of Moammar Gadhafi, at which point Royal Court aides cut the meeting short.
Given his declining health, one would expect the king to continue traveling for summer vacations, even if he chooses to curtail official state visits. Therefore, it is particularly striking that King Salman did without his annual month-long trip to Morocco in 2018. Perhaps the reason for the king’s lack of travel is more political in nature. King Salman’s last foreign trip was in October 2017, one month before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) led a shakedown of Saudi Arabia’s elites in the name of ending corruption. Given the fact that this move made enemies out of many of the kingdom’s most powerful, it may be that King Salman recognizes that should he leave the state, other members of the royal family may mobilize in an effort to remove the crown prince from the line of succession.
The king’s presence also adds legitimacy to MBS’s policy decisions, both domestic and foreign. Conversely, perhaps the king chooses to remain in the kingdom in an effort to reign in the crown prince and keep him in check. For all of the attention MBS has received as the face of the kingdom’s recent reforms and policy decisions, it is clear that King Salman continues to have final say. This has been made evident time and again, with instances such as the king calling off the Aramco IPO or clarifying that the kingdom remains a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and would not bend in its support for Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestine.
Though it is impossible to conclusively state the reason for King Salman’s complete abstention from foreign travel at this time, whatever the impetus for the king’s lack of travel, it is likely to have significant ramifications for the future of internal Saudi politics.
Categories: the beast