The year 1994 was a rough year for Saudi Arabia: it ran a budget deficit of over $10 billion in a year when it had hoped to balance the budget, had to negotiate extended payments on a number of key contracts, and entered the new year of 1995 by announcing higher prices on a number of necessities. But 1994 was an even rougher year for Saudi Arabia in the American press, where its financial difficulties not only received extensive coverage but were, in some cases, linked to warnings that they are omens of political instability. Since Saudi Arabia is both a key ally of the United States in the Persian/Arab Gulf and also possessor of the world's largest proven oil receives, concern about the kingdom's political stability runs deep in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. The Gulf War was fought as much for the protection of Saudi Arabia as for the liberation of Kuwait, and the kingdom is a major trading partner and purchaser of Western goods. Not surprisingly, suggestions that economic problems somehow will translate into political instability trigger considerable jitteriness in the West.
But is this a reasonable assessment? Is there a threat to the stability of Saudi Arabia, or are we witnessing a repetition of the jitters of 1979-80, when in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the Holy Mosque in Mecca by radicals, many-including some Western intelligence services-were warning that Saudi Arabia was on the brink of revolutionary change. Then, too, some other elements were present which occasionally turn up now in discussions: concern about the succession to the throne, for example, prompted by a sense of the mortality of the reigning king, Khaled then and Fahd now. But those who expected a crisis were wrong then. Are they wrong now?
There was some political dissidence in Saudi Arabia in 1994, and the very visible opposition leader, Muhammad al-Masari, and his Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia made much of the "defections" of two Saudi diplomats and of a wave of arrests in September. It is one thing for opponents of the kingdom abroad to make the most of the kingdom's difficulties; it is quite another to accept their special pleadings at face value.
SAUDI ARABIA'S BAD PRESS
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia's economic problems-to be described in greater detail below-have focused special attention on the kingdom. Some of that attention is the natural result of the kingdom's economic and strategic importance to the industrialized world. And some of it is the natural journalistic response to seeing the mighty brought low, or at least somewhat lower: the traditional "the party's over" type of story. Everyone is fascinated when the local rich family is suddenly forced to live like everyone else in the neighborhood. There is no denying that Saudi Arabia's plight-though most of the world's countries would welcome such a "plight," given the resources Saudi Arabia still possesses-is of importance and genuine concern.
Thus we find numerous headlines which play on the poor-little-rich-kingdom theme: "Spare a Billion?" (The Economist); "The Saudis are Buying: But with Whose Money?" (Business Week); and a veritable series from The Washington Post: "At Saudis' Rich Table, the Alien Taste of Austerity;" "Desert Shock: The Saudis are Cash Poor;" "Budget Deficits Imperil Saudi Arabia's Vast Wheat Export Program."1 At times, too, the press noted allegedly growing political opposition to the kingdom, and in a June 23, 1994, editorial, the Post warned about dangers to "Saudi 'Stability.'"2 (Ironically, three days before, the Post had run a paid advertising supplement touting the kingdom.)3 The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, responded to the criticism with a "Taking Exception" column of his own on the op-ed page on July 4.4
To be sure, the kingdom was not without its defenders, even without the ambassador's intervention. Caspar Weinberger used his column in Forbes, for example, to argue that the kingdom's economy was considerably stronger than its critics claimed.5
Saudi Arabia's "bad press" over its economic difficulties was not limited to the press alone. The International Monetary Fund sharply criticized the kingdom's rapid increase in debt in a report which, while not released until September, had been prepared earlier in the year.6 And among other highly visible studies of the Saudi economy came a scathing critique from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Eliyahu Kanovsky's apocalyptically-titled The Economy of Saudi Arabia: Troubled Present, Grim Future.7 Kanovsky is an Israeli scholar who has long been a pessimist about the future of the Saudi economy. In this article I want to examine both the realities of the economic problems facing the kingdom and the validity of any link to the country's political future. It is my basic conclusion that while the kingdom faces real economic problems, they are not insurmountable, and that while the kingdom may have long been "in denial" and moved too slowly to respond to those problems, it is now doing so. I would also argue that many of the warnings that economic difficulties will translate to political change may result from misapprehensions about how the kingdom really works, as well as a (frequently recurring) Western tendency to underestimate the ability of the House of Saud to correct its own mistakes and clean its own house.
First, however, a few disclaimers are in order. In this article, I am not seeking to be an apologist either for the kingdom or its ruling family. I have deliberately avoided seeking advice or information from the Saudi embassy or other official sources in preparing this assessment. Other than the fact that a few Saudis (fewer than five) subscribe or have subscribed to a newsletter which I publish, I have no business dealings with the kingdom.
I am also a historian by training and a political analyst by profession, not an economist. I am not seeking to deny or question that the kingdom has serious economic problems. I am seeking, rather, to question some of the assumptions about the political implications of those problems.
And finally, I am offering an assessment of what is likely to happen, not of what one might wish to happen, or what should happen. One need not be an admirer of either the Saudi system or the Saudi leadership to believe that that system is stable and that leadership likely to survive. Western assumptions about the kingdom's future sometimes arise from a historical American discomfort with monarchy combined with a general impression, in the wake of the fall of communism, that democracy is the wave of the future. But an intelligent assessment of the stability of Saudi Arabia must be based on facts and an understanding of historical and cultural context, not derived from either wishful thinking or false analogies. Just as in 1979 Saudi Arabia did not prove to be the "next Iran," so it is not about to become the "next Eastern Europe" or, for that matter, the "next Algeria." (The pundits seem to have decided that Egypt is the next Algeria, but that is another argument.)
Saudi Arabia is, of course, none of these things. It is Saudi Arabia. It may not always remain Saudi, but it is always going to remain Arabia, and that must be kept in mind.
THE ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
There is no denying that Saudi Arabia is no longer the super-rich state it appeared to be after the oil booms of the 1970s. Today the World Bank classes it as an "Upper Middle-Income" country based on its per capita GNP, while the "High-Income" countries include countries such as Ireland and Israel.8 It has been running budget deficits since 1983. In 1994 it faced some major payments crunches. The jitters about the Saudi future in 1994 were largely produced by the rapidity of the rise in Saudi indebtedness. This was a key element in the IMF's critique: Saudi debt had risen from 23 percent of gross domestic product in 1989 to a projected 70 percent of GDP by the end of 1994.9 The resultant figures themselves are not the cause for concern, but the rapidity with which the debt was run up and the sharpness of the increase in a short time. Most of the Saudi debt is domestic.
There is also no denying that the Saudis are themselves responsible for many of their economic problems. After years of deficit spending, the huge currency surpluses of the early 1980s are gone. Revenues from oil exports are half what they were in the early 1980s. Some of the Saudis' cash-flow difficulties stem from factors for which they have been justly criticized: gigantic military expenditures, huge infrastructure investments, and overall planning based on the expectation of higher oil prices than have in fact prevailed. But critics sometimes understate or underemphasize one of the most crucial factors: some $50 billion spent on the Gulf War. Not only did Saudi Arabia incur huge military and civilian expenditures on its own due to the war and the presence of the coalition troops in the kingdom, it also undertook to pay for much of the cost of the U.S. and other foreign forces. War is always a distorting factor, and in this case the Saudis willingly chose to bear the economic brunt. Although not responsible for the war, they have accepted its costs because they perceived winning it as essential to their own survival.
It is true that there have been gross inefficiencies and, at least in Western perceptions, outright corruption at times. The Saudis have also-and this is another justified cause of external concern-been relatively slow to acknowledge and move to correct the problems. But the Saudis are no longer in denial; they have been tightening their belts in several areas. Extensions to the payment arrangements on major military purchases have been negotiated and new ones sharply curtailed. Major new purchases are having to be financed: a $6- billion order for commercial aircraft from Boeing and McDonnell Douglas and a $4- billion deal with AT&T. While these contracts may be signs that the Saudis are still prepared to spend big, they may face a few problems. The aircraft deal has run into some financing difficulties with the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and may have to be financed in some other way or even renegotiated.10
In addition to stretching out payments and restricting new deals, the Saudis are talking seriously about privatization of such enterprises as the state airline, Saudia. There have even been rumors that the main engine of the country's industrialization, the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Company (SABIC), might eventually be privatized, though this has been denied.
At the beginning of 1995 the Saudis announced that, despite prior intentions of trying to balance the budget in 1994, the deficit for the year was in fact 40 billion Saudi riyals, or about $10.6 billion. The news helped spark speculation against the riyal (fueled by rumors of a devaluation), though this run quickly receded.
Furthermore, the Saudis announced that they anticipate a deficit of 15 billion riyals, or about $4 billion, in 1995, this despite a 6-percent cut in spending and an increase in revenues. To decrease spending and increase revenue, subsidized prices on gasoline, water and electricity were sharply increased, and new fees, including a new 1,000-riyal fee on visas for foreign workers, were introduced. King Fahd, speaking to the Consultative or Shura Council, said that the price rises were intended to be temporary measures. (Some foreign observers would have preferred it if the king had not emphasized the temporary nature of cutting back on subsidies.) He said that these changes were "better than burdening ourselves with foreign loans. Whether they are banks, institutions or governments, Saudi Arabia has but to ask for any amount or thousands of billions in loans and they are prepared to give us these loans... but I think we know very well what is the consequence, that they grow greedy and we burden ourselves."11 While the king may have overstated the willingness of foreign banks to lend to the kingdom in the present circumstances, his willingness to cut subsidies rather than go deeper into debt was welcome in world markets.
Given the fact that the Saudis have been having serious cash flow problems, have exhausted what was once a major reserve of currency reserves and are deeply in debt, it would be a mistake to deny that they are facing real and serious economic problems and choices. At the same time, it is easy to overstate the problem. Their debt levels are no worse than those of some industrial countries and far better than most of the developing world, and the Gulf War has created a distortion which time should help erase. There is one key factor which cannot be ignored: However low the price of oil may be (though it is likely to rise slightly), the Saudis still sit on top of the world's largest proven oil reserves, and it is an open secret that the real amount of oil under the kingdom may be much greater than the stated proven reserves. They also have the greatest excess productive capacity of any oil producer, so that when another supply crisis arises (such as that which occurred when Iraq occupied Kuwait and both Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil left the market), only the Saudis can come to the rescue. This may seem to do them little good in the absence of a crisis and with prices low, but it helps remind us that the kingdom is not without assets. Its assets are not available to meet immediate payment problems, but the country is neither poor nor about to become so.
It is also important to remember that the kingdom has hardly tapped into non-oil sources of income. This is not likely to come from other exports (the wheat export program, for example, being itself the creation of massive investment). But the kingdom has hardly touched whole sources of revenue. While fees are imposed on foreign companies and workers, Saudi citizens pay no taxes and receive vast government support. By cutting the subsidies back, the government has already recognized that these entitlements are not eternal. The day might even come when the Saudis might have to tax their own people, though that day is not, apparently, imminent.
Whether the Saudis' moves at the first of the year will be enough to alleviate their problems and eliminate their payments backlog is for the economists to decide. The Saudis probably will have to do more to raise revenue, cut spending and trim debt. But this article is not seeking to deal with the economic problem by itself, but with its political implications. Kanovsky and other critics, and some of their journalistic imitators, emphasize that tightened belts and decreased government benefits will deepen political dissent in Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post editorial already mentioned pointed to domestic arrests and diplomatic defections as a sign of spreading discontent. Clearly an economic crisis at a time of political unrest can easily combine to bring about dramatic changes. Or so it may seem. But things are not always as they seem.
THE POLITICAL QUESTION
Saudi Arabia's economic problems are real and, despite belt-tightening, are not likely to go away quickly. What does this mean for the kingdom's political stability? An answer depends on an understanding of how the kingdom works, and of the self-protective skills of the House of Saud as an institution, not merely of an individual king. It also depends on answering two questions: What is the present opposition challenge, and what might it be if the quality of life worsens significantly in the next few years?
Saudi Arabia has not always been rich, and its period as a super-rich power really dates only from the oil price boom of the 1970s. But even long before that, it had provided a broad-based welfare state to its citizens (though not all the privileges extended to non-citizen foreign workers). As a result, Saudis have enjoyed the benefits of state largesse (including free education, subsidized prices for gasoline and other commodities, and a general guarantee of the good life) without having to pay the traditional price in taxes. Health care is free, education guaranteed and cost-free through the university level, home loans available without interest, water and electricity provided at low cost. These subsidies had been sacrosanct until the 1995 budget, and many of the kingdom's critics had warned that this sort of cradle-to-grave welfare state without taxation of the citizenry could not be sustained in the country's current debt crisis.
The conventional wisdom was that the ruling family would not cut back subsidies because they feared the political reaction, and given the basic Saudi conservatism, there is no doubt considerable truth in the conventional wisdom. But the 1995 budget does slash at subsidies. The price of gasoline, electricity and other subsidized commodities will jump sharply, in some cases nearly doubling, and there has been talk of a sharp increase in the cost of domestic air travel, perhaps as a way of paying for the new Boeing/McDonnell Douglas aircraft.
How will the average Saudi react? Some critics seem to assume that any belt-tightening will increase political dissidence. They may be right, though the assumption seems to be based on another assumption, that there is some deep-rooted political revolutionary fervor in Saudi Arabia, held in check only by paternalistic provision of the good life free of charge. Once Saudis have to pay their own way like citizens of other countries, they will reject the paternalistic system for a more democratic one. The conclusion seems logical, even intuitive, to most Westerners. That does not mean that it is correct. It does not seem to explain what is happening within a Saudi context; in fact, it does not seem to explain what is happening at all. For one thing, it does not square with what visible manifestations of dissent have appeared.
The opposition to the House of Saud is not coming from proponents of more Western-style democracy, but from Islamists critical of the ruling family's secularism and alleged corruption. It is true that these opponents, where possible, cloak themselves in the rhetoric of Western democratic vocabulary. But-to take perhaps the most dramatic example-the most visible Saudi opposition group, the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia, displays two different faces depending on whether it is encountered in English or Arabic. ''Legitimate Rights,'' in English, sounds like a movement committed to human rights. But the Committee is, in its Arabic name, Lajna al-Difa an al-Huquq al-Shariyya, the Committee for the Defense of sharia rights, or for the enforcement of traditional Islamic law, the sharia. At the time of the Gulf War and the massive buildup of Western armies in Saudi Arabia, there was no shortage of Western journalists reporting that the kingdom would never be the same again: Saudis were exposed to Western ways, to women driving jeeps, and indeed Saudi women staged a protest over the ban on women driving in the kingdom. Clearly, the reporters implied, after the war there would be a major push for change, for more Westernization of customs and mores.
There has been a major push for change, all right, but in the opposite direction. As early as May 1991 conservative Islamist s published a letter to King Fahd demanding a more Islamic society and an end to corruption; another document on similar lines appeared in September of 1992.12 In 1993 the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) was formed. It was promptly banned, and its leader, physics professor Muhammad al-Masari, jailed for a while. On his release he went to London, where the CDLR set up shop as an opposition movement, the "Legitimate Rights" translation of Sharia Rights allowing it to portray itself as a human-rights movement. It began a campaign of publicity against abuses in the kingdom and also began faxing its declarations into the kingdom, where the government eventually banned the distribution of pamphlets derived from the faxes. The "defections" of the two diplomats in 1994 gave the CDLR a major propaganda victory and further embarrassed the Saudi government. In September 1994, after demonstrations in Burayda, the Saudis cracked down on dissent, arresting two outspoken preachers, Safar al-Hawaii and Salman al-Awda. The government said it had detained slightly over 100 people, the CDLR claimed thousands.
But there are some points to note. The CDLR calls for more democracy and human rights, but does not explicitly call for the overthrow of the Saudi regime, though clearly some of its supporters hope for that. It appears to draw its support within the kingdom from those who supported the 1991 and 1992 letters, namely conservative religious figures with an Islamist agenda, most of whom are critical of the kingdom's alliance with the West and of secularist influence in the country. Its supporters are therefore harsh critics of the West in general and of Israel. This has led to some curious reactions in the West, such as a denunciation of the CDLR (and thus an implicit defense of the Saudi regime) by the strongly pro-Israeli New Republic, in response to a defense of the CDLR by the (usually left-of-center) Leslie and Andrew Cockburn in the New Yorker.13
Virtually all of the dissent discernible inside Saudi Arabia in recent years has come from supporters of this Islamist critique. That does not render the critique irrelevant or insupportable, but it does mean that the dissent which exists must be understood within the traditionalist context from which it arises, not equated with some broad-based movement for democracy.
It is sometimes noted that Saudi Arabia is, to a certain extent, harvesting what it has sown: After years of supporting political Islamist opposition movements in other Arab countries, it is now facing a political Islamist opposition at home. It has moved to cut off such funding and has ostracized a prominent businessman whose support of radical Islamist groups is well known. Stripped of his Saudi citizenship, this individual now lives in Khartoum.
Some figures, such as the Mahdists who seized the mosque in Mecca in 1979, may share the revolutionary Islamist agenda of those groups waging jihad against the secular state. Most of the ulama (religious scholars) who have signed the criticisms of the government, however, are conservatives seeking to preserve and protect a traditionalist Islam, not to transform society through a revolutionary Islam. The Saudi kingdom itself owes its existence to the Islamic revivalism of an earlier century, and despite much change has not completely lost that identification.
At this point, it is worth examining how Saudi Arabia has traditionally dealt with challenges to authority. Some of the predictions of dramatic political change seem to assume that events will proceed in a vacuum, that there will be no self-corrective or defensive measures on the part of the House of Saud. This overlooks the history (and flexibility) of the ruling family.
The first thing to keep in mind is that it is a ruling family. The House of Saud is not comparable, say, to Muhammad Reza Pahlevi's former regime in Iran, which was to all intents and purposes the shah's and his alone. King Fahd is the current chairman of the family enterprise, but he is not the sole decision maker. (For years after he became king, Fahd's elder half-brother, Prince Muhammad, was the senior member of the family and was deferred to in family councils even by the king. Muhammad has since died.) There are dozens of senior members of the king's generation, hundreds of fairly senior princes of the next generation, and thousands of members of the royal family in key positions throughout the kingdom. The Saudi system is more an oligarchy than a monarchy, and the ruling family can act as a collective body when it feels its existence is in any way threatened.
Western analysts often concentrate on the rivalries and differences within the royal family. These are real and have much to do with explaining the dynamics of Saudi politics and policy. But they are easily exaggerated. It is highly unlikely that any senior Saudi prince is prepared to risk the family enterprise-keeping the throne in the family-for temporary personal advantage in family rivalry. If one were to do so, the family would likely ostracize him, as it has done in the past.
The best-known case of the family's taking self-corrective measures is the 1964 reduction in power and subsequent deposition of King Saud. Saud was, in some ways, everything the Islamist critics of the present rulers claim them to be: corrupt, dissolute, venal and a spendthrift who was bankrupting the kingdom. The family moved to limit the damage to itself by first making the austere Faisal prime minister and, eventually, deposing Saud altogether and packing him off.
One sometimes hears it said that King Fahd's health is failing and that a succession crisis may be looming. While the king is in his 70s and not in the best of health, a succession crisis seems improbable. The family long ago created a system for transferring power within its ranks. The system worked despite the shock of King Faisal's assassination and worked again when King Khaled died of a longstanding heart ailment. It is true that Fahd and his full brothers, the so-called Al Fahd or Sudeiris after their mother, are very different in style and attitude from the Crown Prince, Abdullah. But that does not mean that the Al Fahd will challenge Prince Abdullah's succession, for that would endanger the family enterprise.
Abdullah is not as well-regarded by some Americans as his half-brothers, in part because he does not share their comfort with things Western. But since he is likely to be the next king (unless he were to die before Fahd), it is worth noting that he may have some strengths particularly well-suited for dealing with the challenges from the Islamist ulama. As longtime head of the National Guard, Abdullah has kept up the old family tradition of nurturing close ties with the Najdi tribes who were the original supporters of the House of Saud. Fahd and his brothers (particularly the powerful Sultan, as defense minister, and Nayif, as interior minister) have never been as comfortable playing this sort of tribal politics. But it has much to do with how Saudi Arabia is governed.
During the years of Khaled's kingship, Americans dealing with the kingdom often remarked that Crown Prince Fahd "really ran the country," meaning its foreign-affairs and defense policies, while King Khaled spent his time "attending sword dances with the tribes" and such. What they overlooked was that, in the Saudi context, that is how one really runs the country.
This point is related to another. Almost anyone who has ever dealt with Saudis has heard about the traditional majlis in which the local amir meets with his people and listens to their complaints; Saudis frequently characterize this as a sort of protodemocracy. That is of course something of a distortion: if the amir grants a request, it is from paternalistic favor, not a response to the consent of the governed. But it does provide, at a local level, a certain responsiveness to the needs of the governed. It also provides the rulers with a useful ear to the ground to detect shifts in popular sentiment.
Added to this mechanism is the Shura or Consultative Council, finally established in 1993 after being promised for years. The Shura Council is appointed, not elected, but it is also the upper tier of a network of local advisory councils that are intended to provide advice and, to a certain extent, consent to the Saudi government. King Fahd's remarks on the new budget and the cutbacks in subsidies at the new year were made in a speech to the council. The council does provide an outlet for certain sectors of society (the technocratic and bureaucratic sectors, for two) which lacked a proper voice in the traditional tribal politics of the kingdom.
None of this makes Saudi Arabia a democracy. Almost refreshingly, in a world where autocrats apply the term to various types of dictatorships, the Saudis make no pretense of being a democracy. But the system does have flexibility, and it can change when it needs to.
It is also important to reiterate some points about the nature of the opposition. Saudi Arabia does apparently have its share of revolutionary Islamists (those who seized the mosque in Mecca in 1979 being the most visible). Most of the recent critique, however, has come from conservative ulama who are not seeking to bring down the system but to reform or purify it, restoring it to its traditional Islamic clarity. This may be a utopian dream, but it is not a particularly revolutionary one. The radical Islamists in Algeria or Egypt preach jihad against the secular state; the critical ulama of Saudi Arabia would shrink from the very idea. For one thing, the Saudi state is itself founded on a form of revivalist Islam. The "unitarian" movement known to Westerners as Wahhabism was a reaction against an earlier wave of "Western" (and Ottoman) influence. The House of Saud has used the "Wahhabi" movement for support and justification, while limiting its excesses. (King Abd al-Aziz eventually had to suppress the lkhwan movement, once the vanguard of his own state-building.) There are historical parallels to the recent Saudi support of political Islamist movements and the subsequent attempt to rein them in.
But the Saudis also have a tradition of accommodating, even co-opting, their critics. Though Saudi Arabia's Shiites still face restrictions on their religious practices and the import of Shiite literature, after the problems of 1979 the Shiite regions of the country suddenly received an influx of government monies to improve the quality of life. Previous critics of the government have often been brought into the tent by concessions or jobs, and some foreign newsletters critical of the kingdom have reportedly ceased publication after the Saudis made them an offer they could not refuse. True believers may argue that these critics have been "bought out" and coopted. But the more important point may be that the critics were never seeking to topple the monarchy or tum the social structure upside down. They were merely seeking a better deal for their group, or tribe or region; and the Saudis knew how to deal with such opposition: by providing what was sought. At least some of the CDLR's constituency inside Saudi Arabia might very well be placated by a crackdown on corruption and a lessening of some of the links to the West.
In the current economic crisis, the kingdom was slow to react. Bureaucracies always are, and when they are as socially conservative as the Saudis, they are even slower. But once the problem is acknowledged, the Saudis have every reason to change. The critics of the kingdom's recent economic mistakes often assume that, since if the kingdom does not change its practices there will be a disaster, there will therefore be a disaster. This underestimates the traditional flexibility of the Saudis. Whether the reforms made so far are sufficient is not the issue: The reforms show that the Saudis can and will tighten the belt and impose increased discipline when needed, precisely because they are shrewd enough to recognize that the alternative is far worse for their own family interests.
To conclude, though the economic crisis is real, the kingdom is dealing with it. In another country this might be a case of too little, too late, but the Saudis still possess enormous resources and have barely begun to try to generate available revenues. And political change requires a political alternative. Saudi Arabia's Islamists are critics but not, yet anyway, revolutionaries. The whole history of the House of Saud suggests that if a leader or group of leaders proves unable to cope with a challenge to the family enterprise, the family will find someone else. There is no shortage of trained and capable leaders within the family itself. And in the past, the family has shown its skill in reviving old tribal links, co-opting opponents and bringing them inside the tent, and responding to popular discontent. There is no reason to doubt that they will do so again. If they do not, they may very well face more serious challenges soon: but there is no reason for assuming that they will not preempt those challenges as they have often done in the past.
Things are not good in the Saudi economy, and the unlimited, government-given good life is going to be considerably restricted for a while, but the sky is not falling, Chicken Little notwithstanding. If the Saudis do not do enough, or revert to the denial and lassitude of some periods in the past, they may turn what is currently a fairly civilized Islamist dissent into a genuine dissident movement. But unlike some other Arab ruling establishments, they are unlikely to let that happen.
1 "Spare a Billion? Saudi Arabia," The Economist, September 17, 1994, p. 42; John Rossant, "The Saudis Are Buying: But with Whose Money?" Business Week, May 23, 1992, p. 28; Nora Boustany, "At Saudis' Rich Table, the Alien Taste of Austerity," The Washington Post, August 13, 1994, p. Al; Clay Chandler, "Desert Shock: The Saudis are Cash-Poor," The Washington Post, October 28, 1994, p. Al; John Lancaster, "Budget Deficits Imperil Saudi Arabia's Vast Wheat Export Program," The Washington Post, December 25, 1994, page A30. This is not intended to be an exhaustive bibliography of coverage of the subject.
2 "Saudi 'Stability,'" Editorial, The Washington Post, June 23, 1994.
3 "Saudi Arabia: Modern Vision and Traditions of Value," The Washington Post, June 20, 1994, Section D pages 1-10 (paid advertising supplement).
4 Prince Bandar bin Sultan, "Modernize but Not Westernize," ("Taking Exception" column on op-ed page, July 4, 1994, p. A19.)
5 Caspar Weinberger, Forbes, June 6, 1994, page 35.
6 Reuter, "MEES says Saudis need more work on economy," January 9, 1995, citing a Middle East Economic Survey description of the IMF study.
7 Eliayahu Kanovsky, The Economy of Saudi Arabia: Troubled Present, Grim Future, The Washington Institute Policy Papers, Number 38, Washington DC, 1994.
8 The World Bank, World Development Report 1994, p. 157.
9 Reuter, January 9, 1995, citing Middle East Economic Survey.
10 Reuter, "Saudi Arabia may seek other financing for planes," by Ashraf Fouad, January 18, 1995.
11 Reuter, "King Fahd Says Price Hikes Better than Borrowing," January 8, 1995.
12 For an excellent and balanced overview of the Islamist opposition and their critique, see R. Hrair Dekmejian, "The Rise of Political Islamism in Saudi Arabia," Middle East Journal, Autumn 1994, pp. 628-43. Several of Dekmejian's points are incorporated in the analysis which follows.
13 "Notebook," The New Republic, December 19, 1994.