Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Saudi Arabia Is The Next Syria

Reckon Saudia Arabia could end up like Suriya al kubra?

Saudi Arabia has always faced unique demographic and socio-economic challenges. Out of a population of approximately 28 million people, immigrants make up nearly a third of entire population and over three-quarters of the labor force. Approximately 70% of the population isunder the age of 30, and within that age group, unemployment is close to 30%. Nationals and non-nationals alike live under Sharia law with strict Wahhabi principles dictated by the royal family and the religious leadership of the ulema, which often cause strains within the immigrant population as well as  the native population.

While some within the kingdom push for modernization, the ultra-conservatives consistently call for increased rigidity in religious practice, causing friction within the royal family and the Saudi population as a whole. The recent ascension of King Salman last year has only added fuel to the fire as the internal politics of the royal family add another layer of uncertainty, opening the door for terrorist groups who might take advantage of the instability.

Saudi Arabia is also suffering a major hit to its largest source of income - with 80% of its budget revenues coming from oil production, Saudi Arabia has been massively affected by dropping oil prices, running some of its highest deficits in history. The kingdom has also traditionally depended on its constant influx of oil wealth to supply high-paying government jobs to key supporters, but with the rapidly dropping oil prices, Saudi Arabia may lose its ability to maintain popularity through employment opportunities. Saudi Arabia’s massive wealth will undoubtedly survive the instability, but the oil crisis adds to a growing list of uncertainties plaguing the country.

These circumstances not only encourage terrorist organizations to view Saudi Arabia as prime real estate, but also create an environment in which the young, unemployed Saudi citizens themselves might fuel the fire of insurgency.

As ISIS loses steam and is pushed out of its old stomping grounds, Saudi Arabia is in danger of becoming the next ground zero for terrorism in the region.

In addition to internal pressure due to widespread unemployment, a massive immigrant population and falling oil prices, Saudi Arabia faces multiple challenges from external sources as well. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen is steadily draining resources and political good will. The Iranian nuclear deal was perceived as a loss and a sign of weakness for Saudi Arabia and the Sunni community, which has always fought to contain its Shia neighbor.

ISIS has already targeted Saudi Arabia for its ties to the US, and in response the government has been driven to arrest almost 100 people in 2015 alone for suspected ties to ISIS. These perceived weaknesses and flaws in the Saudi government provide ideal material for an insurgency seeking a common enemy, and ISIS may seize that opportunity in the event that it is pushed out of its current strongholds. 

 The Saudi government itself is stretched thin operating in Yemen and contributing military resources to Syria, all while suffering blows to its economy from dropping oil prices. The royal family is caught between a rock and a hard place, risking censure from radical conservatives if it modernizes and popular discontent if it pushes more stringent Wahhabism on its population. Critically, Saudi Arabia is home to two of the most holy sites of Islamic culture, Mecca and Medina, which makes it a natural rallying point.
All of these factors make Saudi Arabia an ideal location for insurgency, and suggest that Saudi Arabia will suffer the consequences when ISIS’ power is depleted and its fighters scatter beyond Iraq and Syria.