The desert kingdom fundamentally depends on continued theocratic oppression at home – kept manageable by carefully crafted redistributive schemes – and on U.S. support abroad. Its survival is helped by the deep divide between different would-be heirs to the kleptocratic regime.
To put it succinctly, there are some Islamists opposed to the royal thieves in the name of scripturally ordained purity. There are also are some Western-educated liberals who would like Saudi Arabia to be a bit more like Jordan and Egypt, perhaps even like Lebanon or Turkey. Neither party is a “party” – it would require their heads to stand up and be counted, and likely get chopped off – but both exist beneath the all-pervasive Gleichschaltung of the second-worst totalitarian regime on this planet (after the proverbial North Korea).
The theoretical scene is reminiscent of Egypt at the time of Mubarak’s fall, when all those young, tweeting, English-fluent secularists at Cairo’s Tahrir Square provided the Kerensky-style opening for Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The difference is fundamental, however. In Egypt, joining the opposition under Mubarak could cost you a few years in a jail filled with your like-minded jihadist buddies. In Saudi Arabia, belonging to opposition means beheading at dawn… or a very long spell in solitary confinement on a starvation diet.
If and when it is faced with the threat of demise, the Saudi regime will not agonize. It will let the puritan Sunni opposition carry the torch – under a mutually acceptable arrangement concerning the personal and financial safety of the extended al-Saud family, of course – rather than risk the prospect of “prophet” Muhammad’s homeland coming under infidel rule. The nightmare of women driving cars, Philippino maids freely celebrating Christmas (oh, horror!), or Western expats having a tipple is verboten for ever. Having aided and abetted ISIS for years, the Saudi “princes” will know how to play the finale as the Falcons are readied on the runways to take them to London, Miami, or Marbella.
This is some light years away from Sisi’s altogether welcome intervention in the summer of 2013. Egypt was faced with a clear-cut choice between the Brotherhood’s creeping Islamistan or yet another decade or two of military authoritarianism – and Egypt has enthusiastically embraced the latter. In the meantime, however, in KSA the royal patronage is extended to all sorts of sotto-voce, “moderate Islamic” and quasi-radical options, provided they all agree not to rock the boat. Joining the absurdly named “Consultative Council” may bring rich rewards, even. To some.
Saudi Arabia will collapse, sooner than many in Washington suspect, because it is inherently not capable of reform and renewal. It is also doomed because the social and economic pressures within the desert kingdom cannot be contained on the basis of the implied social contract of “we pay you to stay idle, you pay us back by not rebelling.”
It is to the benefit of the regime that its puritan Islamist and “pro-Western” secularist opponents do not and cannot see eye to eye. When the place explodes, as it will in the next three to five years, there will be an almighty panic inside the Beltway. Good. Finally. And good riddance to the al-Sauds, when it comes. Evil, ugly, primitive, smelly lot of in-bred degenerates.