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How Saudi Arabia’s 79-Year-Old King Salman is Shaking Up the Middle East

SaudI Arabia's King Salman, when he was crown prince, escorts President Barack Obama to a meeting with late King Abdullah on March 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, when he was crown prince, escorts President Barack Obama to a meeting with late King Abdullah on March 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

 When King Salman became Saudi Arabia’s ruler this year, few people expected much change. He was 79 and reputedly in ill health. The longtime governor of Riyadh province, Salman was known as a capable administrator and skilled mediator, not as a man who challenged the status quo.

But since taking the throne in January, Salman has shaken up Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and the royal family’s succession plans.

He has launched a bombing campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen and increased support for rebels in Syria, signaling a more assertive role for an oil-rich kingdom that traditionally relied on the United States for security. Salman’s goal, analysts say, is to guard Sunni Muslims against what he sees as the growing influence of Shiite Iran.

“This is a Saudi moment for the region,” said Nawaf Obaid, a former adviser to the Saudi royal court who is now a fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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