For decades, experts have warned about the fragility of the House of Saud. To curtail their opposition, Saudi monarchs have placated their subjects with cradle-to-grave, petrodollar-funded entitlement programs, while taming the Wahhabi establishment through charitable contributions to religious institutions worldwide. Inspired by the events elsewhere in the Sunni Muslim world, this social contract could face a challenge at the worst possible time — when the House of Saud’s top echelon is ill and geriatric.
If the Saudis should decide to emulate their Egyptian brethren, a new oil crisis might be upon us. Saudi Arabia not only is the world’s largest exporter, it also holds 70 percent of the world’s spare production capacity. In other words, Saudi Arabia is the oil market’s only firefighter, capable of supplying the market when others falter. But if the fire station is on fire, there will be no one to save the neighborhood.
A tip of an oily hat to Andrew Revkin: What If: On Uprisings, Oil Kingdoms and the Energy Gap, who carries the analysis further. Highly recommended reading.