Is the Collapse of Saudi Arabia Inevitable?

By: Heather Douglas

Article originally published by the Roughneck Magazine in their 2015 November issue. Order the Roughneck magazine here: 

“Under Al Qaeda (and now ISIS’) leadership in Saudi Arabia, the (jihadis) were able to lure impressionable young recruits through a mix of religious and political rhetoric, as well as by promising them everlasting glory and heavenly bliss. Many joined and a murderous and highly visible campaign of kidnappings, shootings and bombings was launched across the Kingdom.

“If the Saudi experience holds a lesson for Western policy-makers seeking to redefine their engagement with the Middle East, it is that established states should be bolstered. The chaos that results from even the most well-intentioned efforts to replace the powers-that-be wholesale is the best breeding ground for terrorism and unhappiness.”

Path of Blood – the Story of Al Qaeda’s War on the House of Saud by Thomas Small and Jonathan Hacker (published 2015).

Many think Saudi Arabia is on the brink of a perfect storm of inter-connected challenges that will be the monarchy’s undoing within this decade. The country currently produces 10.5 million barrels daily and a disruption in that amount of crude oil will inevitably spike the price globally – perhaps even overnight.

On one hand Saudi supports jihad – 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama Bin Laden and most of his private donors. On the other hand they see jihadis as a mortal threat to their Kingdom. They also realize that ISIS wants to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.

How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the ISIS takeover of northern Iraq? Initially the Kingdom financed the takeover of Mosul (in Iraq) by ISIS and the subsequent slaughter of Shia Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. It continues stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world as it persists I funding much of the insurgency. 

On Sept 22, 2015, a senior member of the Saudi royal family called for a “change in leadership to fend off the kingdom’s collapse.” The author of the letter, circulated among the Saudi princes, is the grandson of the late King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud. “We will not be able to stop the draining of money, the political adolescence and the military risks unless we change the methods of decision making, even if that implies changing the king himself.”

King Salman, the current king, threw caution to the wind when he came to the throne in January. He is burning through the kingdom’s money reserves at an unsustainable rate. The Kingdom has more than (US) $600 billion in reserves (down from an estimated $750 billion in 2014) it can draw upon should its expenditures outstrip income from oil exports. The country has projected an official budget shortfall for 2015 of $39 billion, although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others believe the actual deficit will be much higher. 

Not only is the country using cash to fund its proxy war with Iran in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, but it is also battling ISIS and splinter Al Qaeda groups within its borders. Saudi Arabia has not learned the lessons of civil unrest – experienced by Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Egypt – and the impact of an all-out war on the overthrow of its government. Meanwhile, its own ‘war on terror’ demands more money even as the House of Saud debates whether or not to invest in a nuclear weapons program.

Writing in the Lebanese Daily Star after a visit to Dubai, columnist Rami Khouri described a sense of alarm sweeping through the Gulf. “Seen from Riyadh, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, the world around the mostly wealthy oil producing states, called the Gulf Cooperation Council, has been turned on its head in the last four years. Every major geo-strategic potential threat or fear that they have quietly harboured for years has started to materialize – virtually simultaneously.”

Khouri cites the following threats to stability in the region:

  •  The street revolution of 2011 that overthrew several Arab leaders (coupled, more generally, with growing popular aspirations towards democratic pluralism through the region);
  • The rise of Muslim Brotherhood parties, the current turmoil in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which has also spawned a plethora of jihadist groups and militias;
  • The growing influence of Iran;
  • Concerns the U.S. is trying to disengage itself from the Middle East; and
  •  Russia’s military support for Syria, Iraq and Iran.

“Each is dangerous for Gulf rulers,” Khouri said, “but together they take on the dimensions of a tsunami.”

While all of this is true, we believe the fall of the House of Saud is inevitable. The Canadian oilpatch will need to deal with the repercussions of global energy insecurity, crude price spikes and the unavoidable call for more production from safe, reliable and secure oil fields. How quickly can we ramp up when the predictable happens? 


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