For The Saudis, A Smooth Succession At A Difficult Moment : Parallels The royal family carried out the transition to a new monarch without a hitch. Still, the region is facing unprecedented turmoil and King Salman assumes the monarchy with several major challenges.

For The Saudis, A Smooth Succession At A Difficult Moment

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The new king of Saudi Arabia has been named - Salman Abdulaziz. Salman Abdulaziz is 79 years old. He succeeds King Abdullah, who died this week at the age of 90. King Salman has already addressed nation on TV to reassure Saudi citizens regional powers and international oil markets. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have an effective working relationship in many areas. And President Obama heads there next week to show his support for the new monarch. The U.S. buys a lot of Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia buys a lot of U.S. military hardware and shares his suspicion of Iran and some fundamentalist groups. But Saudi Arabia has also helped fuel some jihadist movements. And as NPR's Deborah Amos explains, the kingdom faces a number of problems as this royal transition takes place.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Let's talk about beyond the borders. You know, when we heard about the death of King Abdullah, it competed in the headlines with the collapse of the government in Yemen. And that's on Saudi's southern border. This is a very fast-paced crisis. Yemen's president, who was an ally of Saudi Arabia as well as the United States, he was forced to step down by Houthi rebels. You also have al-Qaida in Yemen. You have Syria. You have Iraq. You have the potential of Iran rejoining the region. Analysts that I talked to say he picked a terrible time to die, not that anytime is a good time to die.

SIMON: And does the drop in oil prices mean that Saudi Arabia has a little less wherewithal to go into this?

AMOS: Well, let's talk about this domestically. Here's how it works. Saudi has a history of quelling dissent with money. They expand the roster of state jobs. They add unemployment benefits. There are salary increases, so if they're faced with deficits, that gets harder to do at the same time the kingdom has taken a very hard line on dissent.

Now, you know about this Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi. He was sentenced to jail time, a fine and 1,000 lashes for a website that's called Free Saudi Liberals. When the lashings began, the Saudis came under enormous pressure. And they've suspended it for the moment. So this is another crisis that is going to fall in the new king's lap.

SIMON: At the same time, there's been the appointment of a new second in line for the throne, a deputy crown prince - relatively young man, at the age of 55, Mohammed bin Nayef. He's the minister of the interior. I guess the first grandson to move into the ranks.

AMOS: Yeah, and this is a generational shift. Again, it was smooth. Mohammed bin Nayef - he got the top job at the Interior Ministry in 2012, and he's already the most powerful prince of his generation. He's been in charge of the Saudi drive against Islamists. He's credited with the successful campaign against al-Qaida in the kingdom in 2003. And most important for his image, he survived a suicide bomber, and it was a very close call. So he has shed blood in this campaign against Islamists.

SIMON: Deb, what's your feeling for what Saudis think they can expect from the transition?

AMOS: I think that the shift signals that a new generation is moving into power. There was no public infighting. And so that calmed some jitters at a time of unprecedented upheaval in the region that is right on Saudi's doorstep. Mohammed bin Nayef was educated in the U.S. He's well known in Washington. He's well liked. Considering his age and position, he can wield a lot of power. And finally, now that Abdullah has died, you may see a more decisive Saudi Arabia. The king had been sick for some time. Some people saw his decisions as erratic. Now the transition is over, and decisiveness is what it's going to take to deal with Syria, Iraq, Yemen - I can list them all. Each one of these crises would keep any monarch up all night.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos. Thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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