Aug 15, 2006

The Saudi Predicament

Saudi Arabia is the most influential Arab country. The two holiest mosques in Islam is in Saudi and millions visit Mecca for pilgrimage every year. But that is not all, Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest Arab states and millions of Arabs - and others - went to work and better their life for decades.

But Saudi Arabia is facing difficult challenges (and choices) on all levels today. Internally Saudis face enormous economic difficulties, even with oil prices souring. They have one of the highest youth populations in the world and a whooping 33% unemployment. The voice for political change have never loaders. You can see Saudi dissidents
nowadays on the BBC and Aljazeera speaking against the government, be it from abroad. This was unheard of before the 1990s.

In the gulf, Saudi Arabia has a rocky relationship with its neighbors. It’s seen as the giant that’s difficult to please. If a bridge, a road or pipe has to go through Saudi then the other smaller gulf countries will think twice before proceeding. A recent gas pipeline from Qatar to Kuwait was canceled because of the Saudis refused to allow it to go through their territory. Another project was a bridge from Qatar to UAE that had to go through Saudi but again it was canceled.

In the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia is deeply alarmed by the “Shia Threat”. The Saudis have no foothold in Iraq, they opposed the war (though they wanted Saddam out) and have been very reluctant to lend any support, at least not publicly. The Shia majority government in Iraq sees Saudi Arabia as, at least, unfriendly if not supporting the resistance. Even worse, Saudi Arabia and the US are concerned with Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.

Iran is another major worry for Saudi Arabia, they have supported Iraq against Iran and paid the US billions to arm Iraq. Saudi also see Iran getting stronger and ever more influential in the region. Add to it the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. They also fear Iran is enticing the Shia minority in the East.

But worst of all for the Saudis, Iran is becoming more involved in Arab affair. IranSyria and of course of Hezbollah. Saudi, EgyptJordan have all made their feelings clear about Hezbollah’s attack on the IsraelIran is hijacking the Israel-Arab conflict.

Globally Saudi relationship with the US has been stretched to say the least since 9/11. Security was the major sticking point between Saudi and US.
is a close ally of Iraqi government, and soldiers. The Arab league as a whole is afraid that But nowadays the US is also worried about Saudi-China relations. It has been growing fast and the Saudi are making China connection as visible as possible.

Then there is the question of succession. In Saudi the rule is passed between brothers, the founding father of Saudi had about 45 sons. The Al-Saud family is over 7000 and already crowd the Saudi officialdom. King Abdulla is in his 80s and so is his immediate successor. There is also the aspiring second generation, a whooping 150 senior officials already in their 60s and 70s.

It will be interesting to watch how the ruling Al-Saud family will respond to these challenges. What - if any – political reforms will they make? What policies would they adapt to improve the economy and create jobs? Will they continue to keep distance from Iraqi government or get involved? How will they contain Iran’s influence in the Arab world? And above all, what kind of leadership will the Saudis show in the Arab league.

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1 comment:

janjo said...

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