BEIRUT - Hours after the death of Saudi Arabia’s ruler, his successor, King Salman, moved quickly Friday to project a sense of continuity, saying in a televised address that the oil-rich nation, a Western ally that has long played a dominant role in Arab politics, would not change course.
“We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” Salman, the former crown prince, declared.
Salman was speaking as leaders from the Muslim world converged in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, for the funeral of Abdullah, his brother. Abdullah steered his deeply conservative land through the turmoil of the Arab Spring and was caught up in the region’s seething rivalries before his death early Friday at 90.
In his address, Salman seemed to acknowledge the tensions that have gripped the region, playing out in Syria’s civil war and the consequent rise of the militant group Islamic State.
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“The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need for solidarity and cohesion,” the king said.
With events in Saudi Arabia under close scrutiny - not least from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s greatest rival - leaders including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who was touring African countries, shifted their schedules to attend what news reports said would be a simple and traditional burial.
King Abdullah of Jordan canceled a planned appearance at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Reuters reported. Despite the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Tehran said Friday that its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, would attend an official memorial service for Abdullah.
Abdullah’s death had an immediate economic effect, too, on oil prices, which had been in decline for months but rose in a reflection of concern about what the king’s death will mean for Saudi Arabia’s oil production policies.
News reports, quoting a royal decree in Saudi Arabia, said Salman left much of the government unchanged but made two key appointments, naming his son, Mohammad bin Salman, as defense minister and head of the royal court, and Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, as deputy crown prince.
The appointments signal for the first time a new generation of the Saudi elite being elevated to high office, potentially injecting new energy into a government in which decisions have typically been made at a glacial pace.