Saudi Arabia Faces Domestic Rumblings amid Restless Region
Saudi Arabia managed to avoid the dramatic changes that have swept the Arab world since 2011. “Eighteen months on, however, the conservative rulers of the world’s largest oil producer and the biggest Arab economy are learning to adapt,” wrote Abeer Allam of Financial Times. The Saudi’s, he argues, have been pragmatic about dealing with the new realities. However, domestic problems are adding to the monarchy’s list of challenges following the Arab Spring. Allam notes that the regime “must focus on appeasing a young population – increasingly connected to the outside world – concerned about transparency in government decision-making; the distribution of the country’s resources, including oil wealth and land; and a dearth of jobs.”
Increasingly, these problems have led to a focus on blocking political opposition at home. “A crackdown on activists, especially those who called for a constitutional monarchy, has grown increasingly severe,” Allam said. Despite the rise in political activism, the regime faces little real pressure to reform. However, an increasing number of young Saudis appear willing to publicly question the monarchy. “The question is not ‘Is the system listening’ but ‘Does it respond to our needs?’” says Hala al-Dosari, a women’s rights advocate.
Meanwhile, a new study for Congress reports that U.S. arms sales tripled to a record high in 2011, driven largely by Gulf allies. While weapons sales had declined in recent years, due to a global economic downturn, “ increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels.” The report was prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.