In the last decade the old Saudi ways have been failing. The balance between the religious and the secular in society and the traditional relationship between rulers and ruled have been breaking down, the links between the princes and their people have been weakening. The reason has been the growth of a large, in part Western educated middle class. This is not to say that Saudis are demanding "democracy". Western democracy and the societies it has produced are not greatly admired in the Kingdom, and there is a consensus that at this stage in the country's development the institution of a parliament and voting would lead to the fragmentation of society.
There is no question that corruption is by far the most important issue in Saudi Arabia at present. People who find themselves with smaller incomes and more modest expectations are bound to become more aware of inequalities, greed and corruption in their societies. This is exactly what has happened in Saudi Arabia. The whole upsurge of militant Islam in the Kingdom since 1990 has shaken the old Saudi policy of balancing traditionalists and modernisers. For fifty years the government has seemed to succeed in maintaining close ties with the West and developing Western-style commercial institutions, while allowing society to remain conservative, religious and highly orientated to the family. Now it looks as if the government has failed. Saudi Arabia will have to accustom itself to a certain level of violence, as the government confronts the militants and hopes to rally public support. The American troops in the Kingdom have stayed there since the Gulf war to train Saudi forces and look after US equipment. Virtually all Saudis would prefer they were not there, but it is only the Islamist militants who are greatly upset by their presence. Uncertainty about the future has been increased, more abroad than in Saudi Arabia, by concerns about the succession. King Fahd has been a sick man for some years and since February he has been only partially in control of affairs. Increasingly he has been represented by Prince Abdullah, who has been well briefed on what he has to say by his half brothers, Sultan, the Minister of Defence, and Naif, the Minister of the Interior.
The economic prospects have improved sharply. It seems that this year oil revenues will be some $9bn above the forecast made at the beginning of January. For 1996 the government was projecting expenditure at $40 bn and revenues at $36 bn - so the effect of the surge in oil prices has been to change a $4bn estimated deficit to a $5bn surplus.
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