Fawaz Gerges: Saudi probably won't fall, but if it does the world will change

Share
Related Topics

There is a revolution taking place in the Middle East. The young people are emboldened and confident in a way they have never been before, and what we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya could yet take hold in other countries in the region.

But if the revolution is going to stop anywhere, it is likely to be in the desert at the gates of the House of Saud; crucially the home of the world's greatest supply of oil.

Unlike the striking poverty in Tunisia, Egypt and other places, Saudis are relatively well off. Although there is poverty in Saudi Arabia, the government has invested billions of dollars in welfare.

It is no surprise that King Abdullah's return to the Kingdom on Wednesday coincided with the announcement that the government is set to inject an additional $36bn into public spending projects – it is the result of nervousness for sure, but it is also a tried and tested method of keeping dissent at bay.

The structure of society in the Kingdom also makes it less vulnerable. The state's main organs, the government and the ultra-conservative Sunni religious leaders, are largely at one. A social contract between these two competing powers exists to the benefit of both.

The elites in each camp have enforced this social contract at times of instability, with King Abdullah – who is a viewed as a reformer – winning the trust of the conservatives by refusing to make radical changes to Saudi society in return for the religious leadership eschewing the extremists of the al-Qa'ida type. That does not mean there are no risks for the establishment. The Arab uprising has largely been made possible by the "Al Jazeera effect", with ordinary people becoming aware of corruption and injustice in their own societies through new media outlets, and the Kingdom is not immune.

The rest of the world should be taking a careful look at the situation. If Saudi Arabia were to fall, an unlikely scenario, there would be an earthquake across the world economy. The two major spikes in Western inflation in recent memory were caused by Opec limiting supply in 1973 in protest at the US arming Israel, and later by the revolution in Iran. Saudi Arabia is a huge economy that oils the wheels of the rest of the world. Most of us believe Saudi is too big to fall. If we are wrong, the effect on the world will be devastating.

The author is director of the LSE's Middle East Centre

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

English Teacher, full time supply role, Isle of Sheppey

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job: Our client school is lo...

ICT Teacher, full time supply role, Isle of Sheppey

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job: Our client school is lo...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week