Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative Muslim country that has been dependent on oil exports for the bulk of its existence, is changing the nature of its polity because of economic woes due to falling oil prices. Changing the way in which it has managed the political economy is always a massive undertaking, but the country’s inability to balance its books makes it significantly more difficult. Compared to overhauling the regime, addressing the nation’s economic woes is a more modest and immediate aim. However, an inability to address these economic problems could lead to social upheaval in a country whose citizens are accustomed to having the government foot the bill for many aspects of daily life. So far this has not happened, but given the scale of the problem and the need to transform the regime, it is only a matter of time before Riyadh’s unique social stability comes apart.
Saudi Arabia is short on the one key element that has shaped the country and keeps it