King Salman: A Limited Authoritarian

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud holds absolute political power over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he serves as Head of State and monarch. As an authoritarian leader, he is able to make quick changes in policy, though this ability must be practiced with caution due to the reactionary social climate in Saudi Arabia.

The House of Saud, the extensive royal family, has been in power for 273 years, and King Salman seeks to strengthen his branch of the family as indicated by his recent promotions of his sons to more powerful government positions. With power to freely shuffle government posts and issue decrees, Salman adjusted the line of succession so that his son, Mohammed bin Salman, will take power, the first time since the country’s first ruler that a Saudi monarch designated his son instead of a brother as heir.

Despite having made decisions for the obvious benefit of his family, Salman still demonstrates intentions for the professionalization of the government. He has replaced government ministers with non-royal businessmen and has allowed the private sector to take on a larger role in the economy. Further, Salman ordered an anti-corruption initiative, seeking reform and blaming the problem of corruption for hindering development in the country. This initiative resulted in the removal and detainment of eleven princes and numerous current and former ministers.

However, the changes Salman implements are limited by the reactions of his country. Recent salary cuts, made in an attempt to adjust the kingdom’s finances which have struggled due to low oil prices, were revoked and financial perks were restored following widespread dissatisfaction. The government claims these recent actions indicated the country’s improved economic position, though analysts believe the moves may have been made to appease the public, as recent mandates have caused increases in energy, water and fuel costs.

Additionally, in Saudi Arabia, less conservative actions are risky. King Salman’s recent decree to allow women to drive ended a conservative tradition that was seen by many as a symbol of the repression of women in the country. This decision angered conservatives, including influential figures who give critical support to the ruling family. Still, despite the backlash, King Salman has continued to be more inclusive of women through the modernizing reforms he has implemented since he took over as king in 2015.

Salman has been willing to reconsider and change aspects of Saudi Arabian society and has succeeded in making promising efforts to modernize and diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia. His recent visit to Russia was an effort to shift away from reliance on the United States and develop more diverse international partnerships. Saudi Arabia is eager for an outside investment as the country seeks to diversify its economy, and also hopes to have Russian support in limiting Iranian influence in Syria.

As Saudi Arabian monarch, King Salman has ultimate power and is free to make changes to the country with his unchecked leadership. Still, Salman is the leader of a reactionary society and must consider the response of his people before implementing change, which places a limit on his authoritarianism.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: The People’s Frenemy

Over the past few decades, populist and authoritarian leaders have risen from power and, with the support of the people, would soon lead the country. Some populist leaders have been remembered for leading their countries and improving them, while other populists are remembered for dividing their country and for enacting controversial policies during their term that the international community would disapprove of. One of these populist leaders was, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the sixth president of Iran, a man that was seen by the world as an anti-Israeli populist nationalist because of his policies and remarks, and who was in office between 2005-2013.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is considered by many as a populist hardliner, because of his policies, and he has been a very controversial figure in Iran since he was elected in office in 2005. He was the son of a blacksmith, who would soon become mayor of Tehran in 2003. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entered the race for the presidency. During his campaign, he positioned himself as the ‘man of the people’ and promised to reduce unemployment in the country, and would enact social programs to help the poor. Ahmadinejad reportedly spent no money at all during his campaign and had gained major support from the Supreme Leader and other powerful clerics, who used their networks of mosques to gain support for him. Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide, gaining 62% of the vote.

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During his presidency, he was seen as a controversial figure not only in Iran, but in the international community due to his policies and remarks on Israel. In 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made very controversial comments about Israel and the Holocaust, which angered the West. Western media outlets reported that Ahmadinejad stated that he wanted to, “wipe Israel off the map”. The translation was provided by the Iranian Government News Agency and was supported by several independent translators, but others claim it was a mistranslation and that he actually said, “Israel must vanish from the pages of time”. He has also stated that he believes the Holocaust is a myth exaggerated by the Jewish people to justify the making of Israel. There was also another controversy that was ignited when he became president in 2005. Several Americans who were held hostage during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 accused him of being one of the hostage-takers. He claimed that he wasn’t there and multiple known hostage-takers confirmed that claim.

 

“Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps. … Let’s assume what the Europeans say is true. … Let’s give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria. They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?”

– Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

 

Throughout his presidency, Ahmadinejad has been known as a staunch defender of Iran’s controversial nuclear power program, that has been condemned by the U.N.. The U.S. and Israel fear that Iran may develop a nuclear weapon with that technology. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly told the U.N. that Iran is using its program only for peaceful, economic purposes. He has stated that Iran has a right to have a nuclear program and a missile development program. During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad said he would take a different economic approach and promised fair income and wealth fairly distributed to the poor, which he believed would increase more economic opportunities. Instead, Ahmadinejad’s economic approach was managed by his administration so poorly, that they permanently damaged the Iranian economy causing inflation and a high unemployment rate.

As the 2009 election in Iran approached, Ahmadinejad was slowly losing supporters from the middle class and some from the upper class. The results of the election revealed that Ahmadinejad won with a 63% of the voting majority. Unfortunately for Ahmadinejad, his victory was met with accusations and massive protests. Three of Ahmadinejad’s rival candidates accused him of committing fraud and demanded that the government should conduct a full investigation, but the Supreme Leader and the Iran government stated that there was no foul play. This didn’t stop over 2 million people in Tehran from protesting the election and demanding Ahmadinejad’s resignation. These protests were seen as the biggest unrest in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. The protests were met with violence by militias and police that were called upon by the government to end the protests. After the massive protest, hardline clerics stated that future protests would be considered a crime of banditry where the punishment is execution.

Now, people might be wondering, what is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing now? In April 2017, he registered for Iran’s 2017 presidential election, which was against the advice of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who quickly disqualified Ahmadinejad. Although, Ahmadinejad claimed that he did it to show support for his political ally. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran could be managed better than it is now and that Iran’s main focus should be on the needs of the Iranian people, a classic populist slogan that has been used often.