The prodigal son

Working with both conservative traditionalists and liberal technocrats, he converted the isolated Saudi capital into a crowded city of skyscrapers, universities and Western fast-food chains.

The family sheriff, he is known to be a mediator of disputes within the sprawling royal family. When wayward Saudi princes misbehaved, they ended up in his private jail.

In 2015, he ascended to the throne as Saudi Arabia’s new king.

Childhood

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was born on December 31, 1935 and is reportedly the 25th son of Ibn Saud. He was raised in Murabba Palace.

He was one of the so-called “Sudairi seven” – the brothers born to Ibn Saud by his favourite wife Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi – Salman was at the centre of royal power for decades.

He received his early education in the Princes’ School in Riyadh which was established by his father to provide education for his children. He studied religion and modern science.

Positions

He started his political career at a relatively young age—King Abdulaziz appointed then-Prince Salman as his representative and the emir or mayor of Riyadh when he was 19.

He then went on to become the governor of Riyadh in 1963, and continued to fill that position, with a brief halt during the power struggle between King Saud and King Faisal, from 1960 until 1962.

For the next 48 years, he oversaw the development of the Saudi capital from a small desert town to a major metropolis. He did it with a record for good governance and a lack of corruption. 

He was appointed Minister of Defence in 2011 and as defence minister he was head of the Saudi military as it joined the US and other Arab countries in air strikes in Syria in 2014 against the Islamic State militant group.

In 2012, he was appointed Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, when two elder full-brothers, crown prince’s Sultan and Nayef died within a year of each other.

 He also stood in for King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud for several months by chairing cabinet meetings, representing Saudi Arabia abroad and hosting foreign dignitaries.

Personal Life

Salman bin Abdulaziz is reputed to be a devout Muslim and relatively outward-looking. He married three times and has 12 children.

His sons include the first Muslim astronaut, Prince Sultan, and the governor of Medinah, Prince Faysal. Another son, Prince Khaled, is a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force and led the first RSAF mission against Islamic State targets in Syria last year.

In 2010, Salman underwent spine surgery in the US and remained out of the kingdom for recovery. He had one stroke and despite physiotherapy, his left arm does not work as well as his right.

A physically imposing figure, Salman controls one of the Arab world’s largest media groups. He believes democracy is ill-suited to the conservative kingdom and advocates caution on social and cultural reform, according to a 2007 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of Al Turath Charity Foundation in the field of urban heritage in 2013.

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