The so-called “Arab Spring” has largely bypassed—or has been successfully suppressed in—Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t mean momentous change isn’t in the wings.
The kingdom has been led by a single family, al-Saud, since the 1920s. (Indeed, in a gesture of supreme arrogance, the ruling family actually named the country after itself.) But the continuing ability of the dynasty to survive is being questioned, notably in the Twitterverse.
An anonymous Twitter account, @mujtahidd, has been revealing, 140 characters at a time, the inner workings of the Saudi royals. There is speculation that @mujtahidd is an unhappy member of the royal family. Attempts to identify and suppress him (or her?) have been unsuccessful so far.
Here are some of @mujtahidd’s exposés:
• King Abdullah is in remarkably poor health. He is constantly attended by doctors, and has a fully-equiped intensive care unit wherever he goes.
• Next-in-line crowd prince Salman, the king’s brother, has Alzheimer’s disease.
• Among the other brothers, Interior Minister Talal is estranged from the family because of his pro-reform stance; Muqrin has an inferiority complex because of his dark skin; Sattam is tainted by his affair with a Jewish-French woman who died under suspicious circumstances; Turki and Mamdouh won’t seek the throne, but would take it if offered; and the rest are not being seriously considered.
• Turning to the grandchildren of founding king Abdul-Aziz, @mujtahidd remarks that they are expected not to admit to any ambitions to rule. Therefore, “they have no choice but to gain it [the crown] by deception or armed force.” Some of them are already in touch with the Americans and others, jockeying for position.
• An Allegiance Council was created to settle succession questions, but it is basically impotent. Like the Mafia, the Saudi royal family works out its own problems privately.
Based on these facts (if they are facts), Saudi Arabia’s future looks pretty unstable, as elderly kings totter and die, conservatives and reformers engage in a tug-of-war for control, and the younger generation of princes (and everyone else) becomes ever more impatient. This is consequential, because Saudi Arabia is a consequential country. It’s a large oil producer, an exporter of Islamism, and on the front lines of the conflict with Iran. If instability affects the country’s ability to produce oil; or gives al Qaeda or other homegrown Islamists an opening; or the Shia minority becomes more assertive in demanding equality, perhaps with covert Iranian support—any of these scenarios, or a combination of them, could have a profound impact on the Middle East.
Thus, while Egypt, Syria and Iran are providing the drama and the spectacle, there may be an earthquake in Saudi Arabia before long.