Saudi Arabia's Survival: Enemy Within

Shockwaves from the Riyadh bombings are still reverberating around the country, warning of impending danger. But will the ruling Al Saud family finally be woken from its cosy sleep? This latest rude interruption to its majesty, by subjects bearing the Saudi name, has produced rage, fury and fear. But older members are still in denial. If the regime is to forge a survival strategy, it must now re-examine its foundations.

The World Today
3 minute READ

Mai Yamani

Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

As ruling families go, the al Saud is spectacularly numerous: there are twenty two thousand of them. However, those at the top are struggling to hold things together: the incapacitated King Fahd – 86 years old; half-brother Crown Prince Abdullah – 82 years; and full brothers Defence Minister Sultan – 80, and Minister of Interior Naif – just 77. These old men must now reckon with the breakdown of every assumption they have held. The most shattering is the fact that the bombings struck at the family heartland in the Najd region. This indicates that despite the repression the enemy is within, nearer the throne than ever suspected.

So what is their survival strategy? To whom can they turn? The population is divided into distinctive regional, tribal, and sectarian groups. To the east, in the oil-rich province, are the Shi’a, who have become politically emboldened since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the resurgence of their ideological brothers in Iraq.

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