One of the key players in the global fossil fuel market – Saudi Arabia – a rich and influential kingdom, is currently experiencing quite a severe crisis. Saudi Arabia’s outward stability as a nation state and its rulers’ seemingly firm grip on power belie deep-seated rifts, the discontent felt by the elite and social tensions.
A high unemployment rate among the youth, wide-spread poverty, and tensions not only within the royal family but also between Sunni and Shia Muslims are all factors that call into question the ability of the Saudi rulers to maintain stability within the kingdom and to hold onto power in the long-term. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud promised his people decisive reform and innovation, with the help of, for instance, Saudi Vision 2030. However, implementing changes within a conservative religious society is not easy, and other questionable steps taken by Mohammad Bin Salman only tend to make things worse.
Tensions that have built up within Saudi Arabia’s closed society for a long time could erupt at any time nowadays for many reasons. Some people are dissatisfied with the rapid pace of changes proposed by Mohammad Bin Salman while others are unhappy about how slow they are. At present, the kingdom is at crossroads as its economy and the standard of living in the nation are deteriorating because crude oil prices are low; the war in Yemen is a fiasco and so is the blockade of Qatar, and Iran’s influence is expanding in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. And the succession to the throne is in question too.
In addition, the Crown Prince’s personal issues are having a negative impact on his relationship with Washington. The author believes that unfortunately for Mohammad Bin Salman, he “bet on the wrong horse” during the US election race, and despite his reputation for being adept at backroom politics, after the Democrats lost in November 2016, his relationship with the key backer, the United States, began to deteriorate. According to the author, Donald Trump has not forgotten about the active support the Crown Prince provided to his opponents and, apparently, even tried to instigate a coup in Saudi Arabia in autumn 2017. Its aim was to ensure that a Saudi prince more loyal to Donald Trump came to power.