Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia, has been hospitalised in Riyadh, according to the
al-Ahd news agency. “Informed sources” told reporters that the Saudi monarch, who took office as recently as January of this year, has been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. Officials had been preparing to send him to the US for treatment by American doctors, but the sources told al-Ahd that the king’s health was now too fragile for that trip to go ahead.
The precise reason for his admittance is currently unknown, but it is widely understood to be the case that Salman is suffering from some form of dementia. The extent and nature of his condition is unknown, but officials have been reported as saying he was capable of cogent conversation as recently as last October (before he succeeded his brother, Abdullah, as King). However, he is also known not to recognise long-term friends or remember recent conversations, and it seems clear that most of the practical business of government is handled by his nephew, Muhammad bin Nayef.
As Crown Prince, Muhammad is the official heir to the throne, and is in charge of government affairs at a very delicate time for the kingdom, which is situated close to Syria and embroiled in a dispute with Iran regarding a fatal stampede at the most recent Hajj.
Should Salman die and Muhammad succeed him, then it would mark a new era for Saudi Arabia, as he would be the first king not to be a son of the state’s founder, Abdul Aziz ibn-Saud. In the sixty years since King Abdul’s death, the throne has passed from brother to brother, with a succession of elderly men ascending the throne as potential heirs multiply in number.
If Muhammad becomes king, at 56, he would be the youngest Saudi monarch to ascend the throne since 1953. However, whether or not the Crown Prince will succeed his uncle, the current king, and who he appoints as his heir remains a source of speculation. The system is opaque enough that nothing can be predicted with certainty.