Worst of all, the collapse of Saudi oil revenues threatens to exhaust the kingdom’s $700 billion in financial reserves within five years, according to an October estimate by the International Monetary Fund (as I discussed here). The House of Saud relies on subsidies to buy the loyalty of the vast majority of its subjects, and its reduced spending power is the biggest threat to its rule. Last week Riyadh cut subsidies for water, electricity and gasoline. The timing of the executions may be more than coincidence: the royal family’s capacity to buy popular support is eroding just as its regional security policy has fallen apart.
For decades, Riyadh has presented itself as an ally of the West and a force for stability in the region, while providing financial support for Wahhabi fundamentalism around the world. China has been the kingdom’s largest customer as well as a provider of sophisticated weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles. But China also has lost patience with the monarchy’s support for Wahhabi Islamists in China and bordering countries.
According to a senior Chinese analyst, the Saudis are the main source of funding for Islamist madrassas in Western China, where the “East Turkistan Independence Movement” has launched several large-scale terror attacks. Although the Saudi government has reassured Beijing that it does not support the homegrown terrorists, it either can’t or won’t stop some members of the royal family from channeling funds to the local jihadis through informal financial channels. “Our biggest worry in the Middle East isn’t oil—it’s Saudi Arabia,” the analyst said.
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