The death of Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old King Abdullah marks the end of an era and leaves a power vacuum at the highest echelons of the country’s royal government.
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King Abdullah spent 20 years on the throne until succumbing to pneumonia after spending a month in hospital.
The line of succession means the crown goes to his half-brother Salman.
However, his reign is predicted to be short as he is 79 years old and reportedly suffering from dementia.
Next in line and crown prince is his youngest brother Muqrin, aged 69.
The aging royal family is triggering one crisis for the country, seen as the richest and one of the most politically stable in the region where jihadists and militants are undermining the rule of law from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Sudan.
Civil and economic problems
The economy is underpinned by oil but has yet to deal with some major political and economic problems.
As the leading Arab nation in the coalition against the Islamic State occupation of Syria and Iraq, many Saudis are asking the government why the nation is bombing fellow Sunni Muslims rather than taking the fight to their enemy of centuries, the Shi’ites.
At home, a disaffected youth is also pressing the government to find them more jobs and give them more freedoms.
Coping with dissent is not a Saudi strongpoint.
Online protestor Raif Badawi was recently sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes in a public square for speaking out against the government in an online blog.
Women’s rights are also a challenge as more women are better educated and expect more from life than having a family. In Saudi, women cannot drive a car without permission from their father or husband.
Saudi Arabia has a problem of identity.
The nation wants to lead and be taken seriously as a modern nation, but in the West is perceived as shackled in the dark ages because of strict religious laws and a poor human rights record.
Money and oil are the reasons why so many Western governments give the nation an important role – and the fact this role gives the US and Europe and ally and foothold in the Middle East when so many countries are hostile.
Whether the current royal family has the skills and will to deal with the problems is yet to be seen.
Perhaps more likely, due to age and infirmity, the real powers behind the throne will step out and take power.
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