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Happy 81st Birthday to Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud King of Saudi Arabia born December 31, 1935

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Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Arabic: سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود‎‎‎, Salmān ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa‘ūd; born 31 December 1935) is King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the head of the House of Saud.[1]

He served as the Deputy Governor and then the Governor of Riyadh for 48 years from 1963 to 2011. He was then appointed as Minister of Defence. He was also named the Crown Prince in 2012 following the death of his brother Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Salman was crowned as the new King of Saudi Arabia on 23 January 2015 following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. Among the most notable events during his reign so far have been Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the Yemeni Civil War, the 2015 Mina stampede during the Hajj, and the execution of Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other opponents of the regime on 2 January 2016.

Early life

Salman was born on 31 December 1935,[2] and is reported to be the 25th son of Ibn Saud.[2] Salman and his six brothers make up what is referred to as the Sudairi Seven.[3][4] He was raised in the Murabba Palace.[5]

Salman received his early education at the Princes’ School in the capital city of Riyadh, a school established by Ibn Saud specifically to provide education for his children.[6] He studied religion and modern science.[7]

Governor of Riyadh

Governor Salman bin Abdulaziz with Vladimir Putin in 2007

Salman was first appointed as deputy governor of Riyadh Province in 1954 when he was 19 years old and held the post until 1955.[2]

He was appointed governor of Riyadh Province on 4 February 1963.[6] His tenure lasted for forty-eight years from 1963 to 2011.[7]

As governor, he contributed to the development of Riyadh from a mid-sized town into a major urban metropolis. He served as an important liaison to attract tourism, capital projects and foreign investment to his country. He favored political and economic relationships with the West.[8] During his governorship, Salman recruited advisors from King Saud University.[9]

During Salman’s five decades as Riyadh governor, he became adept at managing the delicate balance of clerical, tribal, and princely interests that determine Saudi policy.[10]

In January 2011, he ordered the arrest of Riyadh beggars “who try to take advantage of the generosity of people”. All foreign beggars were deported and Saudi beggars were placed in a rehabilitation program by the Ministry of Social Affairs.[11]

He was also the chairman of the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (KAFRA),[12] King Abdulaziz Museum,[13] the Prince Salman Center for Disability Research and the Prince Fahd bin Salman Charitable Society for the Care of Kidney Patients.[2]

Salman also undertook several foreign tours during his reign. In 1974, he visited Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the nations. During his visit to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1991, he inaugurated a gallery. In 1996, he was received in the Élysée Palace in Paris by the then-French president Jacques Chirac. The same year he toured Bosnia and Herzegovina to give donations to the Muslim citizens of the country. Being a part of an Asian tour in 1998, Salman visited Pakistan, Japan, Brunei and China.[14]

Under Salman, Riyadh became “one of the richest cities in the Middle East” and an important place for trade and commerce. There were also infrastructural advances including schools, universities and sports stadiums.[2] About the province, he said

“Every village or town in the Riyadh Region is dear to me, and holds a special place in my heart…. I witnessed every step taken by the city of Riyadh, and for this reason it is difficult for me to think about being far away from Riyadh.”[2]

Second in line (Second Deputy Prime Minister)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with Salman at the Pentagon in April 2012

On 5 November 2011, Salman was appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, replacing his full brother, the late Crown Prince Sultan,[15] Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz was named as the governor of the Riyadh Province. Prince Salman was also named as a member of the National Security Council (NSC) on the same day.[16]

It is speculated that his placement in the immediate line of succession occurred due to his qualities. First, he has a conciliatory and diplomatic nature. He headed the family council, called The Descendants’ Council (Majlis al Uthra in Arabic), that was established by King Fahd in 2000 to solve family matters, reach consensus and try to avoid any publicly embarrassing behaviour of some family members.[17][18] Second, Salman belongs to the “middle generation” in the royal family; therefore, he could develop close ties with both generations socially and culturally. Last, as a result of his long-term governorship, he had developed a network of relationships within Arab and international circles.[19]

Salman continued the policy of military intervention in Bahrain, to try to crush the Bahrain uprising. In April 2012, Salman visited both the United States and the United Kingdom where he met with U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.[20][21] 2013 saw Saudi military spending climb to $67bn, overtaking that of the UK, France and Japan to place fourth globally.[22] As defense minister, Salman was head of the military as Saudi Arabia joined the United States and other Arab countries in carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Crown Prince

Crown Prince Salman meeting U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, 23 April 2013

On 18 June 2012, Salman was appointed as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia shortly after the death of his brother, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.[23][24] Prince Salman was also made First deputy prime minister.[25] His nomination as crown prince and deputy prime minister was considered by Reuters to be a signal that King Abdullah‘s cautious reforms were likely to continue.[25] On the other hand, Saudi reformists stated that whilst Prince Salman, in contrast to other Saudi royals, took a more diplomatic approach towards them, he could not be considered a political reformer.[26] They also argued that, like King Abdullah, Salman focused mainly on economic improvement rather than political change.[26]

On 27 August 2012, the Royal Court announced that Salman was in charge of state affairs whilst King Abdullah was out of the country.[27] Prince Salman launched a Twitter account on 23 February 2013.[28] In September 2012, Salman was named as the deputy chairman of the military service council.[29] He is a strong advocate for philanthropy in poor Muslim nations such as Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.[8]

King of Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Salman, Riyadh, 27 January 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Salman in Riyadh, Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, 3 September 2015

On 23 January 2015, Salman, aged 79, succeeded as king after his half-brother Abdullah died of pneumonia at the age of 90. The newly appointed king issued a statement which read “His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1am this morning.” He appointed Prince Muqrin as the Crown Prince.[30]

Salman is conservative and holds traditional views with regards to political reforms and social change.[31]

After coming to power, Salman reshuffled the cabinet on 30 January 2015. Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah al-Humaidan was made the intelligence chief. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was removed from his post in the security council and the adviser to the monarch was also removed as were the former monarch’s sons Turki as governor of Riyadh and Mishaal as governor of Mecca. Ali al-Naimi remained the minister of petroleum and mineral resources, as did Saud al-Faisal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ibrahim Al-Assaf as finance minister. He also “gave a bonus of two months’ salary to all Saudi state employees and military personnel”, including pensioners and students while also asking citizens to “not forget me in your prayers”.[32]

In February 2015, he received Prince Charles during his six-day tour in the Middle East. They “exchanged cordial talks and reviewed bilateral relations” between the countries.[33]

In February 2015, estimates that the king’s post-coronation giveaway will ultimately cost more than $32 billion (more than the entire annual budget for Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy). These included grants to professional associations, literary and sports clubs; investments in water and electricity; and bonuses worth two months of salary to all government employees, soldiers, pensioners and students on government stipends at home and abroad. Some private companies followed suit with comparable bonuses for their Saudi employees, putting another few billion dollars into people’s pockets. Some of the government spending will come over years, but most will hit the Saudi market this month, including the bonuses.[34]

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