Next Up in the Middle East Mess? Saudi Arabia’s Succession Fight.
Good read and a bit unsettling.
By Karen Elliott House, Published: September 14
From afar, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appears immune from the turmoil and uncertainty engulfing nations such as Syria, Egypt and Libya. But rather than being an oasis of stability in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is nearing its own crisis point.
The elderly sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who have ruled sequentially since his death in 1953, are approaching the end of the line. And as that happens, the future of this kingdom on which the world depends for oil has never been more precarious.
The three historic pillars of Saudi stability are cracking.King Abdullah is nearly 90 and ailing. Crown Prince Salman is 76. The royal family can continue to pass the monarchy to remaining brothers and half-brothers, but even the youngest of those is already in his late 60s. None is likely to have the acumen and energy — or even the time — to usher in an era of reform to solve the kingdom’s mounting problems: poor education, high unemployment, a corrupt bureaucracy, a sclerotic economy and an increasingly young and frustrated society. These domestic challenges are compounded by external ones including Middle East turmoil, the nuclear ambition of the radical regime in Iran and a fraying alliance with the United States.
The three historic pillars of Saudi stability are cracking. Massive oil revenue, which has bought public passivity, is threatened by peaked production and sharply increased domestic energy consumption. A supportive Wahhabi Islamic establishment that bestowed legitimacy on the House of Saud is increasingly fractious and is losing public credibility. And now, the royal family is in danger of division as it is forced to confront generational succession.
Whether by the choice of the royal family sooner, or by the will of Allah a bit later, the crown is going to pass to the new generation. This entails risk as well as opportunity. […]