If Bruce Riedel is to be believed, the overthrow of the Saudi royals may be a possibility in the near future.
Winds of change have been blowing in the desert land during the last few decades especially with respect to women demanding their rights. Saudi Arabia has also been affected by the Arab Spring, even though demands for political change have thus far been blocked through a mix of repression and cooptation.
Recurrent economic and institutional problems, along with widely perceived corruption, generate significant distress among Saudis.
All of the above make it very likely that an awakening may just be on the plate for the Saudis and Saudi Arabia.
Even though, Saudi Arabia is the world’s last absolute monarchy where the King has complete authority, even the absolute monarch has been giving way to change; albeit, at a very slow speed. The succession adds another complication to the already complicated situation.
Every succession in the kingdom since its founder has been among brothers; as in Saudi Arabia’s royal system, the throne passes not from father to son but from brother to brother. The line ends with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman. If Abdullah and/or Salman dies (both are old and ill) only a couple of possible remaining half brothers are suitable and they may not hold up as unrest begins leading to a serious succession crisis.
So how does the US, Saudi Arabia’s oldest ally, fare if a revolution really does come to Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is America’s oldest ally in the Middle East, but a revolution in Saudi Arabia will be disastrous for America and her interests; most prominently, their war against terror and al-Qaeda. Add Israel and you have a mixture that just might not be handled at all.
The Saudi National Guard is one of the factors the Kingdom as well as the US, relies upon in case of disintegration. Reigning king Abdullah has spent his life and billions in resources and training them with the help of USA, but it is unknown whether they will ever pick up arms against their own brethren.
Some American analysts like Toby Jones, have demanded rethinking of the U.S.-Saudi alliance arguing that "Washington's clear preference for the status quo in the Gulf has come at considerable cost to activists in the region.”
In case of a change in the status quo, this will play havoc with US interests.
According to Riedel, "Revolutionary change in the kingdom would be a disaster for American interests across the board. As the world's swing producer, prolonged instability in Saudi Arabia would cause havoc in global oil markets, setting back economic recovery in the West and disrupting economic growth in the East." Riedel adds that, "...the overthrow of the monarchy would represent a severe setback to America's position in the region and provide a dramatic strategic windfall for Iran. The small oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf would be endangered, as would the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan."
Saudi Arabia is the unrivalled master of the oil market. The kingdom holds virtually all the world's spare production capacity. Iran, its main rival within OPEC, has been sidelined by US and UN sanctions, leading to Saudi Arabia’s highest oil output.
America still needs imported oil form the Kingdom but according to the International Energy Agency, the United States will become the world's leading oil producer in just a few years. Imagine that! The United States could produce more oil than Saudi Arabia as early as 2017 and become a net oil exporter by 2030. So, Saudi dependency may not be such a big factor, but it will affect the global economy as many countries (China, India, Japan, and Europe etc) depend on Saudi oil and a new regime’s decision to reduce exports substantially will have a major impact on the global economy.