Saudi King Salman replaces Abdullah

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Saudi Arabia is in the Middle East. King Abdullah (pictured right) was a falconer in his youth.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich nation is a close ally of the United States in the Middle East, passed away in January. The Saudi leader worked to make his conservative Islamic country a more modern place, and he helped America reduce the influence of its shared rival, Iran.

See, there are two factions in the religion of Islam – the Sunnis and the Shias – whose centuries-long conflict has caused all kinds of trouble. Islam is the second biggest religion in the world after Christianity, and its followers worship Allah (Arabic for God), who they believe communicated through their founder, the prophet Muhammad.

There’s a lot of Sunni-Shia chaos in the Middle East right now, especially with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia has long opposed Shiite Iran. The USA has had tension with Iran for years, over concerns that their nuclear power is being developed for weapons. The current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been far more open to having talks with the USA than ever before, but they still compete with America for influence in neighboring countries. With the collapse of the USA-supported government in Yemen and the problems with ISIS, the passing of Abdullah gives Iran a chance to expand its reach.

Abdullah was born in 1924 in Riyadh, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia, and he ran the country for the past two decades. With his passing, Britain’s 88-year-old Queen Elizabeth II is now the oldest living monarch in the world.

Prince Salman, Abdullah’s 79-year-old half-brother, became the new King. Obama paid respects to the late Abdullah and met with King Salman the following week, but his wife Michelle caused a bit of drama by not wearing a headscarf. Why? Islamic believers think that Allah wants women to cover their hair in the name of modesty. Still, Obama’s meeting went well, as he reassured Salman that America’s friendship is secure.

Featured image courtesy of USA’s Secretary of State on Flickr. Image of Middle East map courtesy of USA Department of Defense.