21st Century Wire
by Stuart J. Hooper
While undergoing treatment for pneumonia Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has died. Crown Prince Salman has been named as the new King.
This event comes at a challenging time for Saudi Arabia. Oil prices are dive bombing and it is widely understood that the Kingdom can only sustain such low rates for a certain period of time, before it approaches economic catastrophe. Saudi Arabia is what is known as a ‘Swing State‘, meaning that it has the ability to swing the price of oil, literally overnight, by either cutting or enhancing production by around two million barrels of oil per day. It is believed that U.S. pressure, the de facto driver of Saudi foreign policy, is swinging the price down in an attempt to subsequently attack Russia’s oil-dependent economy; after it has failed to do so on all other fronts.
The Saudi Royal Family is known to suffer from fierce internal rivalries and power struggles. The loss of a leader, although somewhat expected, still, opens the door to political conflict. The likelihood of political conflict occurring in Saudi Arabia is therefore at an all time high if the aforementioned economic problems begin to become a prominent issue.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, 1 August 1924 – 23 January 2015.
These economic problems run parallel with legitimacy problems currently facing the House of Saud. The recent flogging of a Saudi Arabian blogger, who questioned said legitimacy, has received vast international attention and posits the Kingdom for domestic upheaval. Saudi Arabia’s legitimacy issues fall back to its claim to be the true representation, and defender, of Islam. This claim was initially challenged by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw a new state, namely Iran, lay claim to such a position. So while Saudi Arabia and Israel may appear to be strange bedfellows, they both have a common enemy in Iran; an external actor that may look to take advantage of the Kingdom’s negative geopolitical situation.
If there was ever a case for an ‘Arab Spring‘, Saudi Arabia would be a prime candidate. Refusing to sign onto the UN Declaration of Human Rights has led to vast humanitarian issues concerning torture, execution, corporal punishment and equal rights for all; so Saudi Arabia certainly appears to be in need of domestic change. Will a political faction within the Kingdom take advantage of the currently negative geopolitical situation facing Saudi Arabia’s rulers? Or will an external, foreign faction look for change covertly?
With the huge potential for economic problems of extraordinary magnitude, combined with the international outcry against the Kingdom’s domestic practises and potential for foreign involvement, change may be on the horizon for Saudi Arabia; whether the ruling family like it or not. The death of King Abdullah truly could not have come at a worse time for the House of Saud.