Its strength and resilience are greater than many realise, but there are real signs of strainby William Patey / November 11, 2015 / Leave a comment
There are reasons to be worried, and more than usual, but we should not exaggerate them. Saudi Arabia’s resilience is hugely underappreciated. But while the risk is small, the consequences for us would be calamitous. That is the real reason to worry—and there is quite a bit we can do to help.
Other governments have always worried about Saudi Arabia. I have never known a period when they did not. In the mid-1990s, everybody was worried because of low oil prices and the beginnings of terrorist activity, about which the Saudis were initially in denial. As western officials and diplomats, we were also going through the post-mortem of why we had not predicted the fall of the Shah in Iran, and the risk of being complacent was seared in all our minds. All the same, nearly every British ambassador had to spend a lot of time arguing to Whitehall that, contrary to its fears, Saudi Arabia was not about to collapse.
Nobody predicted the Arab Spring, but it did not surprise me that Saudi Arabia has proved resilient in the face of that upheaval. If you look at what was common to the republics that fell—I call them republics kindly, but they were more like republican dictatorships—it was that they had become family dictatorships built around one man, their leadership had become sclerotic, they had lost the confidence of the elites around them and they began to mismanage their economies. There was brutal oppression in order to stay in power, and widespread resentment towards the sons of the dictators, combined with an unwillingness among the army and the elites…