While King Abdullah’s seven-year reign has largely maintained the strong economic growth and relative social stability brought during the previous 23-year rule of King Fahd, the Arab Uprisings have radically transformed the region’s political landscape.
In less than two years, long-term allies such as former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have been overthrown, replaced by Islamist rulers whose ideological yet democratic policies stand in stark contrast to the exclusive, authoritarian rule that governs the kingdom.
Ongoing calls for greater social and political liberalisation from the country’s increasingly vocal younger generation appear fanciful. Instead, the country’s rulers are focusing on economic change and infrastructure development to appease a restive population.
While the country’s monumental infrastructure development programme, capitalised by its vast oil wealth, continues unabated, its ambitious Saudisation employment strategy aimed at getting citizens into work faces ongoing and significant challenges.
Still, external issues remain a primary driver of policy. Regional stability is at the forefront of Saudi Arabia’s concerns. While its increasingly assertive position in Syria and Egypt aims to foil arch foe Iran’s designs in both countries, massive spending on cutting-edge military hardware should act as a deterrent in the Gulf region.