In This Review

The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud

The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall of the House of Saud
By Said K. Aburish
326 pp, St. Martin's Press, 1995

There is a cottage industry forming to predict the impending fall of the House of Saud. Some of the newsletters that take this line are bought off by the Saudi regime after a few issues. Others are more reputable, calling attention to real problems in a country that largely avoids careful scrutiny by scholars and the media. There is a chance, of course, that someday the Saudi regime will be swept away, but no one can know when or how. This book takes the harsh view that the Saudi experiment was bankrupt from the outset. Even King Abdal-Aziz Al Saud, usually held up as a model of a strong and shrewd traditional leader, is dismissed as ignorant and cruel. The corrupting effect of money after the oil boom of the 1970s is underscored in what is probably the most convincing part of the book. The author's key analytical point is that the regime is running out of money to buy the loyalty, or at least acquiescence, of its rapidly growing population. Unless oil prices go back up or the regime curbs its spending habits, that may well be true. What is less certain is that the next step will be a radical Islamic revolution as in Iran, accompanied by further oil price hikes and even the possibility of a full-scale war. Of course, this all makes for much more dramatic reading than would a version that says the regime faces financial problems, as well as uncertainties stemming from succession, and that fairly substantial political changes will no doubt be needed in the coming decade to cope with the politicized new middle class, including Islamist opposition voices. The latter scenario, however, seems more plausible than the predictions contained in a book that is long on speculation, filled with intriguing vignettes, and totally devoid of footnotes that might help document the alleged facts.