The end of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The most important thing happening in the world that is different this week from last week from what I can tell is that the the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going “full Ishmael” on us. By this I mean the reference in the Hebrew Bible to Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, and the legendary ancestor of the Arabs: “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him….”

What’s going on now? As you know there seems to be an internal purge going on, and a centralization of power around the Crown Prince. This, after the rollback of the power of the religious establishment.

Externally the quagmire in Yemen continues, and the Saudi state is now becoming more belligerent toward both Iran and Lebanon.

Most of you probably know the general issues about why the Saudi state is attempting to change and reform. Though petroleum will remain important for plastics and jet fuel, it is quite possible that the proportion used for gasoline will decline with the rise of electric cars. Additionally, there seem more supply-side possibilities with fracking technologies.

But perhaps the biggest factors are demographic. Over ten years ago Peter Turchin wrote a paper, Scientific Prediction in Historical Sociology: Ibn Khaldun meets Al Saud. It’s pretty useful in understanding what’s going on right now. The big issue which Turchin talks about more generally and is relevant to Saudi Arabia is elite overproduction. The Royal House is highly fecund. And all the scions demand unsustainable leisured lives….

8 thoughts on “The end of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  1. “… petroleum … it is quite possible that the proportion used for gasoline will decline with the rise of electric cars.”

    The battery powered electric car is dinosaur technology, that only impresses people who are unfamiliar with the history of the automobile.

    100 years ago, My great-grandmother drove a Baker Electric. Mrs. Henry Sr. drove and electric car. A third of the cars on the road were electric.

    The battle was fought. BEV lost. On merit.

  2. In the West, Alwaleed bin Talal is much better known due to his flashy investments, but the key to the purge was Mutaib bin Abdullah. He had been in charge of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) until the purge.

    SANG is not like our own (American) National Guard, which is a nominally state-established reserve force that augments the regular federal military in wartime. SANG has two components: the first, a substantial mobile (light mechanized) strike force, originally recruited from the tough Bedouin tribal elements and trained by Western/American professionals, the main role of which is to guard the regime (somewhat akin to the Republican Guards in Ba’athist Iraq). The other component is a small tribal militia force (of dubious military value) that exists to subsidize and ensure the loyalty of various tribal constituencies.

    SANG is not under the control of the Ministry of Defense, and instead has its own ministry.

  3. By the way, I don’t know that this centralization is necessarily a bad thing. It’s possible (though perhaps not likely) that the centralization does lead to some positive changes in the oligarchic stasis of the Saudi regime, stamp out corruption and waste, and indeed modernize the Saudi state. It all depends on what the centralizers do with the near-absolute domination of all the institutions of power in the state… whether they are actually visionary men or merely venal and/or power-hungry.

  4. Considering that 65 to 90% of the electricity associated with wind and solar actually comes from fossil fuels, the so-called “backups,” it is impossible that widespread adoption of electric vehicle will decrease fossil fuel consumption for energy. Indeed, the actual fuel efficiency of modern electric vehicles is about 35 mpg (gasoline equivalent). This is better than the current fleet average for gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles, but not that much better.

  5. @Bob Sykes

    Since some proportion of electricity comes from non-fossil fuel sources, and the electric cars are more efficient, how can it be impossible for widespread use of electric cars to reduce fossil fuel consumption? In any case the power plants aren’t running off petroleum.

    A quick Google indicates that ~35% of US and ~80% of Canadian electricity presently comes from non-fossil fuel sources.

  6. “35% of US and ~80% of Canadian electricity presently comes from non-fossil fuel sources”

    Hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants aren’t exactly the environmental crowd’s fan favorites either.

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