Saudi Arabia has remained the great buffer to change in the post-Arab Spring environment. While critics have raised questions about the longevity of the monarchy in light of the monumental change occurring elsewhere in the region, the House of Saud has quietly gone about shoring up its defences against internal and external foes.
The key appointment of Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the highly influential and effectual politician, as the country’s new security chief, spells out the kingdom’s intention on both fronts.
A more assertive foreign policy, spearheaded by financial and military support to friendly factions in countries including Syria and Libya, aims to contain the potential for broader regional conflict. Military excursions in Yemen have quieted the country’s southern frontier and taken the battle to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a long-time foe of the Saudi monarchy.
The lack of a clear succession strategy, however, remains the greatest challenge to long-term stability in the kingdom.
Questions remain over the potency of the country’s Allegiance Council to direct change given its purported lack of involvement in the appointment of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud earlier this year.
Despite the strong economic growth and relative social stability King Abdullah has brought to the kingdom, politicking within the Saudi court has proven a defining feature of his reign.
The overarching conservatism that defines the kingdom is perfectly illustrated by the advanced age of those jostling for position. Bridging the generational gap will present a more formidable challenge to the country’s future rulers than the current period of regional change does to its present.