For years, there’s been a discussion about Saudi Arabia’s role in the world oil trade. Almost 20% of the the world’s oil comes from Saudi oil fields, making the country the largest exporter in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the world. Its dominance in the oil industry has made it the leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is also the leader of the Sunni Islamic world because the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located in the country. Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country with an absolute monarchy that determines policy without outside input. For the most part its government has been stable, but one crown prince is currently upsetting the traditional way things have been run.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is younger than most of his relatives in power but has been making political moves to solidify his claim to the throne. He’s arrested and frozen the assets of many members of his family, including cousins and uncles in positions of power, and has begun to take power for himself. This has all been in the name of removing corruption but many see it as a grab for power. This, along with Mohammed’s challenges to old social norms such as barring women from driving, has made him popular with the common population.
While it seems that Crown Prince Salman has the common citizens on his side, the royal family and others in power are getting nervous. Prince Mohammed’s removal of so many government officials and his open support of liberal ideology may generate much unrest within the country, and that instability worries investors and business partners that Saudi Arabia needs for its oil-based economy. Progress is necessary and the idea of lifting the driving ban and moving away from a very conservative history is exciting to witness, but usually a shift as sudden as this one can have serious repercussions. With our economy tied to the oil trade, any hiccup from the world’s largest oil producer can be felt within our economy. The movement towards a more progressive Saudi Arabia is great, but the global implications it could cause need to be taken into account. Because the United States is the primary defender of Saudi Arabia, any sort of destabilization could lead to warfare and suddenly pull our country into another conflict.
Crown Prince Mohammed is correct to move Saudi Arabia forward, but he needs to do it in a way that allows for a smooth transition. Seizing power by arresting family members seems to cause more problems than benefits and creates more enemies for Mohammed to contend with. It’ll be easier for Prince Mohammed to push for a new kind of Saudi Arabian future if he has familial support in the government, instead of doing it all himself. The fact that he’s younger than most government officials will find it harder to trust and support him in the future. The Prince should be a little more conscientious of the decisions he’s making and the possible repercussions that could come because of them.
Wesley Rodriguez-Diep is a sophomore studying international relations.