[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Who Will Succeed the House of Saud?
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2003


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] For decades the United States has trained Saudi Arabian pilots and other military officers. Recent developments in the desert kingdom have given a new importance to those relationships.

On November 9, a deadly car bomb was exploded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The casualty toll was a score dead and more than a hundred wounded. More ominously, it was likely the first of many more attacks by Saudi militants.

Lurking beneath the surface is a sensitive issue which many in Washington would prefer not to discuss: how securely entrenched is the House of Saud?

The bomb was not aimed at Westerners -- the target was a Saudi compound inhabited by Arabs with affluent lifestyles. In the words of Wyche Fowler, Jr., a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, "There is a determined fight to rattle the government if not bring it down."

When Al Qaeda was blamed for the attack, some in the United States smiled inwardly. After all, it was Saudi Arabia which had been the incubator for this terrorist group; now they were cutting off the hand that had nurtured them. But let's not become too euphoric about this measure of justice.

About ten years ago, a CIA study concluded that the House of Saud was on its last legs. And with good reason. The dynasty that was created in the twentieth century by Ibn Saud, who conquered Saudi Arabia, was engorged with oil money since 1938 when American engineers hit the first oil gusher. It was showing severe strains, if not tottering. The monarchy supports the decadent lifestyles of more than 5,000 princes who receive salaries, not for working, but for who they are.

At the same time, the standard of living among the population has been plummeting. Unemployment is estimated to be 30 percent among young Saudis, who refuse to take menial jobs. As a result, foreigners make up almost 90 percent of all workers in the private sector. Add to this mix one of the highest fertility rates in the world: the population mushroomed from 6.2 million in 1970 to 24 million in 2003, with the average Saudi woman bearing more than 6 children. Is it little wonder that this nation is about to explode?

Let's not kid ourselves. The Saudi royal family will not move toward a more free and liberal society. It makes token nods toward the United States, such as the promise of municipal elections. But by and large, the rulers resist change. Christian churches are still banned in the country. Women cannot drive cars or go out in public unaccompanied by a man from the family. The state religious police roam the streets with wooden clubs to punish those who flaunt Islamic strictures adopted more than a thousand years ago. There are no courts, as we know them. Princes dispense a poor substitute for justice.

Despite all of this, fundamentalists are still pushing hard from the right. Purporting to be the guardians of the faith, especially the orthodox Wahhabi branch, the Saudi regime refuses to confront the religious extremists. The parallels to Iran in the last days of the Shah are striking.

The time has come for decision makers in Washington to stop asking if the House of Saud will survive -- it won't. At least not for more than a few years.

Instead, the critical question should be: who will succeed the House of Saud? In the United States, we must care deeply about this question. Thirty years after the 1973 oil embargo, we are as dependent upon Saudi oil now as we were then.

But it's not just the United States. Western Europe and Japan's economies have a high dependence on oil. China is showing the largest increase in oil consumption, and oil drives the Chinese factories which export to the United States at a prodigious rate. We cannot afford to have a nation with 25 percent of the world's oil reserves fall into hostile hands.

So the question becomes: how can the United States support and forge ties with the next generation of Saudi rulers? Clearly, they won't be elected because democracy doesn't exist. They could come from the fundamentalists in an Iran-style revolution, which is the most likely scenario. In that case, that the U.S. will be on the outside looking in, as we are in Iran.

But what else is there? How about the Saudi military? In my recent novel Spy Dance, a Saudi air force officer emerges as the strong man to take over the reins of government when a revolution blasts apart the House of Saud.

That's precisely where the United States should be steering developments. The time has come to cultivate and expand our relationships with Saudi officers. An interim rule by the military on the way toward a more democratic Saudi Arabia is the best horse the United States can ride in this race. It's time we brought it out of the stable and put on a saddle.