The BBC had an interesting article this morning about Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his first year in power. Suffice to say, its been a rocky one. None of the Kingdom’s major foreign policy initiatives are bearing much fruit. Saudi Arabia seems unable, or unwilling, to match Russian and Iranian support in the Syrian Civil War and thus the rebels that the Saudi’s support are on the back foot. The Kingdom is embroiled in a costly stalemate in Yemen that is proving quite embarrassing for the Saudi military. This is all compounded by a dramatic fall in the price of oil. As reported by al-Monitor, the Saudi state budget posted a deficit of 15 percent of GDP in 2015 and will most likely match that figure again this year.
Saudi Arabia has also seen an increase in the number of protests. The execution of a leading Shiite cleric earlier this year was an attempt to clamp down on rising public anger against the Saudi state. For now, most of the unrest remains focused in the mostly-Shiite populated east of the country. As reported in both the BBC and al-Monitor, the Kingdom has sought to address the deficit by liberalizing the economy, including reducing fuel subsidies and raising gasoline prices. These are measures that will disproportionately affect the poor in Saudi Arabia, and with an unemployment rate about 11 percent, there are plenty of those to go around. All in all, Saudi Arabia is beginning to look a lot more like the countries most affected by the Arab Spring. High unemployment, large deficits, youth bulge, etc. Except that Saudi Arabia also has an open-ended war to top it off.
The thing about revolutions is, they tend to sneak up on you. Everything may seem fine and stable, until they aren’t. Right now, in Saudi Arabia, things don’t even seem fine and stable. The Kingdom is currently engaged in a massive crackdown on the populace, whether supporters of terrorism or democracy. And with oil revenue drying up, so does the massive Saudi welfare state. Once the welfare state is stripped away, all the Kingdom has to show for itself is an authoritarian, fundamentalist state. Now, I’m not saying that Saudi Arabia is going to have a revolution tomorrow, but if things don’t change it could very well be coming up soon.