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Saudi Arabia and the Challenges Ahead

Since the 2003 Iraq war and especially the wake of the Arab spring ,Saudi Arabia is going through an identity crisis. There is growing unrest among many youth who no longer tolerate living in servitude and oppression. They want and need more freedom, and civil rights.

With the eruption of the Arab spring the government spent $ 130 billion dollars to silence the opposition. Any political opposition is quelled by force, and punishments for crimes such as blasphemy, sorcery and apostasy are gruesome and carried out publicly. In 2015 alone, 157 people were beheaded, and more than 90 have been executed thus far in 2016.

With estimated oil reserves of 270 billion barrels, the fall of oil prices has had an unprecedented effect on the Saudi economy. The oil crisis has inflicted major economic disruption, forced the government to cut subsidies and curtail many development projects and reduced its international stature and ability to exert influence over the Arab states.

There is massive inequality between the various classes. Nearly one fifth of the population lives in poverty, especially in the predominantly Shiite South where ironically much of the oil reserves are located. While the poor are getting poorer, thousands of princes and princess live lavishly mostly in Europe spending hundreds of millions of dollars and occupying villas which further drains economic resources.

The relationship between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran has always been characterized by tension and mistrust. The quiet enmity came to the fore in the wake of the 2003 Iraq war and the growing influence of Tehran over the Shiite Iraqi government.

This was further aggravated with the eruption of the civil war in Syria, where Iran supported the Assad Regime with money, military equipment, training and subsequently foot soldiers while the Saudis provided similar aid to the rebels opposed to Assad and radical Sunni forces fighting Assad.

The enmity between the two countries took another turn for the worse when it was suspected that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, which Riyadh viewed as a direct threat to its national security.

The execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr an icon who called for addressing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia was charged with incitement and treason and sentenced to death with 46 others further deepened the animosity between the countries. Although Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed decades of close bilateral relations, the relationship has soured over the geostrategic and geopolitical interests of the US in the Middle East,its deal with Iran .

Saudi Arabia must face these challenges head on and avoid what might become an albatross that would choke off its potential to be a significant player in and outside the region.

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Dr. Fariborz Saremi is an Iranian strategic analyst based in Hamburg/Germany.Dr.Saremi is a regular contributor for World Tribun.com,Freepressers.com and Defense & Foreign Affairs. At times he has been a commentator for the German TV, ARD/NDR.

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