Saudi Arabia seems to be one of the few Arab states not to have been caught up, so far, in the wave of popular unrest across the Middle East. But it is still profoundly threatened by what is going on. The unrest in Bahrain – just 15km from Saudi Arabia – poses very serious questions for the Saudi royal family. Bahrain’s royal family are Sunnis, threatened by an uprising by a majority Shia population. The Saudi royal family are also ruling over a large (minority) Shia population, concentrated in the oil-rich eastern provinces. Most of the experts I have read or spoken to reckon that the Saudis simply will not let the Bahraini royal family fall. This piece from the New York Times openly raises the prospect of Saudi military intevention.
What could the Americans say or do about that? It would all be uncomfortably reminiscent of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 – you remember, the one that “would not stand”. Read more