“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right………..
You say you’ll change the constitution……….”
Revolution (The Beatles)
“Unfortunately, notwithstanding the stakes, the United States has no serious option for heading off a revolution in the Kingdom if it is coming. Since American interests are so intimately tied to the House of Saud, the U.S. does not have the choice of distancing the United States from it in an effort to get on the right side of history. Nevertheless, you should try to reestablish trust with the King and urge him to move more rapidly on his political reform agenda, while recognizing that this effort is likely to have limited results………. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a proven survivor. Two earlier Saudi kingdoms were defeated by the Ottoman Empire and eradicated. But the House of Saud came back. They survived a wave of revolutions against Arab monarchies in the 1950s and 1960s. A jihadist coup attempt in 1979 seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca but was crushed. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda staged a four-year-long insurrection to topple the royal family and failed less than a decade ago. Nevertheless, al Qaeda cadres remain in the Kingdom and next door in Yemen…………. Much more disturbing to the royals would be protests in Sunni parts of the Kingdom. These might start in the so-called Koran belt north of the capital where dissent is endemic or in the neglected Asir province on the Yemeni border. Once they start they could snowball and reach the major cities of the Hejaz………………”
Reform will not do it in the Arabian Peninsula. There is no such thing as a “political” reform in an absolute tribal monarchy that is also a theocracy. Nor can meaningful “reform” happen. When you have thousands of princes living in a certain style by effectively looting the wealth of the country, it is nearly impossible to get them to give it up for “reform”.
Saudi Arabia has the biggest and most generous entitlement program in the world, but it is welfare for the Al Saud princes and their retainers. (I must add that it is not for all princes, just for a few thousand of them, the ones that matter. I was told by a source that there are some ‘distant’ princes who are “middle class”). No serious attempt at reform and accountability is possible under the Al Saud system. For the princes, accountability and freedom of speech would kill the Golden Goose. Any monarch or potentate that tries serious reform will face a ‘palace revolution of princes’. Can you ask the Forty Thieves to give up the cave and its treasures to Ali Baba? Besides, they are not only “forty” thieves, they are thousands of thieves and hence it is impossible to get a consensus.
There can and will be some cosmetic reforms. Women will be, they are, used as a substitute for real change. Women appointed to the appointed Shoura Council. Women allowed to drive within certain areas. Limits will be put on a girl’s marriage age (I am guessing 12 or 13 will be the best limit they can do, for historical reasons). These will be cheered in the West as “reforms” while the princes monopolize the politics, such as they are, and continue to rob the resources (oil and land) of the people.
I have opined (succinctly and insightfully, I might add) in the recent past on the prospects for a Saudi “revolution”. Some of my more recent posts on this topic are linked here, both for my archival purposes and for your dubious reading pleasure:
The Saudi Uprisings: Shi’a Opposition, Wahhabi Opposition, Lost Liberals
Gangs of Arabia: Oil Fiefdoms and Turf Wars, Ivanhoe and Isaac of Qatif
Saudi Legs and Bellies: Roots of Instability, the Coming Age of Warlord Princes
The Coming Brawl for Saudi Succession: a Kingdom of Principalities
Saudi Arabia: the Most Ignored Arab Uprising
Lion of Sunnis, King of Falafel, Pious Prince of Baba Ghannouj
Who is Running Saudi Arabia: Retainers or a Cabal of Desperate Housewives?
Saudi Mufti Diagnoses Arab Uprisings: Sectarian Fitna, Sinful Anarchy, Ali and the Umayyads
PR Nation: Saudi King Appoints Women to Advisory Council
Holy Greed: Paris Hilton Does Mecca, Takes Over Prophet Mohammed’s Childhood Home
A Saudi Timeline for Arab Spring: Omitting Bahrain and Qatif and Hijaz and Nejd
Impact of Lower Oil Prices on Gulf Potentates, Gross Princely Product
Gulf Poverty: Ali Baba and the Potentates, Shameless Hungry Saudi Kingdom of Arabia
The Mufti as Theoretician of Arab Uprisings and Activist of Private Lives
A Saudi Al-Basoos War on Twitter, Mujtahidd and the Royal Court
Saudi Activist Goes Mad, Claims All Princes Want Democracy, Wants Future King Tried
Battle of Saudi Succession Heats Up, Rectal Prince Promoted