Saudi Arabia faces a host of challenges, notably falling oil prices and the rise of Islamic extremists, as its newly enthroned king gets to work. He says he will maintain the policies pursued by his predecessor, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who died Jan. 23.
"We will continue adhering to the correct policies that Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment," King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud said in a televised speech after taking the throne.
Salman was appointed governor of Riyadh province while in his 20s and credited with the modernization of the capital. He has many ties to key foreign figures and is believed to advocate gradual social reform.
Saudi Arabia is expecting a roughly $40 billion budget deficit this year due to the plunge in crude oil prices. But Salman is expected to maintain the kingdom's policy of prioritizing market share maintenance and is unlikely to cut production.
OPEC decided in November to keep up production levels, a policy widely supported by Saudi leaders. Crude prices gained temporarily after King Abdullah's death but have since remained steady.
Salman said in November that Saudi Arabia will continue promoting market stability and that it will meet the growing demand of crude oil in emerging markets. State-owned Saudi Aramco continues to make capital investments and is unlikely to cut output.
He also addressed the deepening crisis in the Middle East in a Jan. 23 speech. "The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need of solidarity and cohesion," he said.
Saudi Arabia is concerned with the rise of the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq and Syria. It has joined the U.S.-led airstrikes against the militant group. The terrorist group said it would retaliate, and was likely responsible for an attack Jan. 5 near the Iraq-Saudi border.
The country's southern neighbor, Yemen, faces a rapidly deteriorating political crisis. Shiite Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, causing President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a Saudi ally, to resign Jan. 22. Some suspect Iran, which is Shiite majority, supports the rebels.
Yemen is a hot spot for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The political vacuum there undoubtedly will strengthen the terrorist group. One of the al-Qaida branch's predecessors was a Saudi extremist faction that fled to Yemen to avoid persecution. It has continued to launch attacks on its former homeland.
The new king also must manage Saudi Arabia's precarious relationship with Iran. Saudi Arabia rejected a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2013 to protest U.S. engagement with Iran on nuclear issues. Accusations that the Syrian civil war is actually a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran persist. Some fighters from the conflict who joined the Islamic State group now target Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah was considered a practical reformer in diplomatic circles. He is remembered for integrating Saudi Arabia into the global economy and pushing through some domestic reforms.
The country joined the World Trade Organization in 2005 under Abdullah. He also maintained relations with the U.S.
Abdullah introduced some progressive social reforms at home, including in women's rights. Despite the status of women in the country remaining a troubling point, their lot improved somewhat under Abdullah. He appointed women to a political advisory council for the first time in 2013. But as the custodian of Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest sites, he often had to make concessions to conservatives.
The king also invested in education to expand employment opportunities for the growing population of youth. He founded the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the kingdom's first coed university.