With violence erupting in Qatif in early December, the royal family is not taking any chances. Saudi Arabia has barely been touched by the Arab Awakening, at least not to the extent of any other places in the region and this is due in large part to the strength of the royal monarchy. Being home to the two holy places of Mecca and Medina, the royal family confers much of its legitimacy in being custodians of these holy sites and through the Wahabi Clerical Establishment.
Up to this point, the royal family has been able to absorb most of the discontent within the kingdom and has handled any unrest swiftly. Since March of 2011 several billions of dollars of aid packages have been handed out and money has seemed to work in pacifying the people.
“Fortunately for the kingdom, the nine million barrels of oil Saudi produces each day provide tremendous revenue for it to dole out these kinds of subsidies. Moreover, this income, combined with Saudi’s huge cash reserves, estimated at $400 billion, allows the ruling family to maintain comprehensive security and intelligence apparatuses, the ability to wield huge influence over both domestic and international media, and the general ability to quell unrest by throwing money at problems.”
While this has bought the royal family some time, it is unlikely that it will serve as a long term solution to quieting discontent within the kingdom. With unemployment estimates as high as 25%, much of Saudi Arabia’s youth feels disillusioned, and has little hope for the future. Additionally, with King Abdullah 87 years old and ailing, and Crown Prince Nayef next in line to take the throne, many are unsure of the liberal reforms implemented by King Abdullah will stick with Crown Prince Nayef being much more conservative.