Back in 1979, an anti-Imperialist revolution put a sudden end to the Shah’s ambitions and robbed the West of one of its key allies in the Middle East. While Saudi Arabia shows no signs of succumbing to a popular uprising, its inability to reform presages alarming indications that the kingdom’s ruling elite could fall from grace. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Saudis’ foreign policy choices which appear overly assertive, controversial and doomed. Embroiled and out of depth in conflicts and controversies of their own making, the Saudi rulers are as lost as children in a playground of adults.
For one thing, the Saudis are hampered by entrenched positions which cannot be easily shifted or put aside in the name of reform. In the past thirty years, Saudi support for Wahhabi inspired groups around the Middle East region was tolerated by Western governments because it coincided with their interests. Now these groups have morphed into the terrorists currently decimating post-Soviet Afghanistan, post-Saddam Iraq, Syria and post-Ghaddafi Libya, Saudi Arabia has belatedly recognised that its support for these Islamic extremists has turned back on itself and Islamist terrorism has now become one of the main threats to the kingdom. Not only that, Syria and Iraq exposed the Wahhabi agenda and – in the public mind – forever linked the Sunni religion and the Saudis with the worst kind of terrorism perpetrated by Daesh.