UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said recently that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has managed to achieve in the first 10 days of his reign what no ruler could possibly achieve during their first 100.
But for all their good intentions, Ban’s remarks include a small structural inaccuracy. In the West the president-elect is usually an outsider to the system, and therefore everything they do during their tenure counts as new. But King Salman has been part of the Saudi leadership for decades, and the steps and decisions he has made so far had already been prepared and considered before he acceded to the throne. Governance is first and foremost based on a sound vision, and it was apparent from the very first changes he made that King Salman was keen to send out a clear message, leaving no room for ambiguity or hesitation when it comes to his stances on dealing with all the turmoil currently ravaging the region.
The clarity of King Salman’s approach was particularly evident when the King invited both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to the Saudi capital. During those visits each leader expressed a markedly different stance on Syria. Saudi Arabia also expressed its own stance on the Syrian crisis without obliging any of the two guests to commit to it. Diplomacy is a combination of dynamic activity, renewed vision, and firm values. So what Ban found remarkable was not surprising to those familiar with the Saudi statesman who during his tenure as the governor of Riyadh transformed the Saudi capital from being essentially a medium-sized town to a major city.
King Salman’s style of rule and governance has not changed. He believes all sides involved should know where they stand. He does not let allies make mistakes, nor non-allies to continue making them.
Ban, who is at the vanguard of international diplomacy, maybe wanted to express his appreciation of the King’s distinguished policies. But this is just the beginning of a deeper Saudi vision, and world leaders who are set to visit Riyadh to figure out its leadership’s outlook regarding the most critical time in modern history will find in King Salman a statesman who never changes his order of priorities.
Many doors previously closed have now been opened: US President Barack Obama has at last visited Riyadh; Erdoğan and Sisi both visited on the same day; Qatar’s Emir went to Washington; after the recent Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, Aden, previously the capital of the former state of South Yemen, was immediately declared an alternative capital.
Disputes do not solve problems, and, in the end, friendship is not necessarily about making compromises, but rather about maintaining your dignity and that of those whom you consider friends.