Saudi Arabia, which must be one of the nastiest nations on earth — second only to North Korea or one or two of the central Asian dictatorships — is setting about a few reforms in order, one presumes, to modernise and effectively join the world.
The previous king, Abdullah, intelligent and definitely reform- minded made a few attempts to modernise the country. Some mild reforms for women were carried out and Abdullah university was established specialising in science and not just the oil industry. Whether it has a full-blown biology faculty (able to teach Darwinism) I don’t know. Doubtful.
The royal family has also recently decided that succession will now clearly go to the next generation instead of going sideways to other brothers. King Salman, the present ruler in in his eighties and only a little younger than Abdullah when he died — though the effective king is his son, Crown Prince Salman. It appears to be the younger Salman who took the strange decision to over-pump Saudi oil and thus bring down the world price to around $40/barrel.
The young Salman doesn’t seem to be a reformist or, indeed, very intelligent at all so how far reforms will go depends on the present generation of the Wahhabi mullahs at the top. A generation ago they were very powerful. After the 1991 Gulf War when the Americans had many troops quartered in Saudi Arabia for a few months getting ready for the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq the Wahhabis were so scandalised by the leisure time behaviour of the troops — no doubt looking for sex — that as soon as the American troops had departed they pressured the royal family to adopt a constitution under Sharia law which was brought about immediately.
However, another spanner in the works is Isis, which regards Saudi Arabia as under its purview. They strongly disapprove of the mild reforms so far in Saudi Arabia and, in fact, had already mounted some terrorist actions during King Abddullah’s time. Western commentators who know Said Arabia well say the royal family is as strongly committed to defeating Isis as the Allies are. But that remains to be seen. A great deal of money is still leaving the mosque Poor Boxes of the most extreme mullahs, as it used to not long ago for Al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia has been nothing but trouble in the Middle East ever since France and Britain reneged on their promise at the end of the second World War to allow King Saud to expand his domain considerably. Has the leopard changed its spots. We’ll know very shortly.