We’ve spoken with Ali al-Ahmed from the Gulf Institute several times in the recent past and with tensions rising in the Middle East we thought it would be helpful to discuss the current positioning of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf, and surrounding area.
We met al-Ahmed at a hotel in Washington, D.C. recently for a long chat and his insights were interesting.
The biggest point he wanted to get across was the status of the Saudi economy. In his eyes, economic growth is stagnating. Recent policies of the new leadership have made everything more expensive; the reforms are crushing the middle class. “My country used to be a place where the state provided, now it is taking,” said al-Ahmed. “Foreigners are being pushed out who previously provided cheap labor for small business; now these Saudi business owners have to pay higher fees for ex-patriots and it is not feasible. Saudis are not willing to work for small wages so mom-and-pop businesses are closing.
“Inflation is rising, hitting the middle class and poverty is growing. Unemployment is very high as the state is no longer hiring and the private sector cannot hire. No one can make money. We have the emergence of an oligarchy. Only big companies will survive and take over the market.
“Our universities are not graduating skilled labor; no major businesses hire Saudis. There are more job seekers than opportunities. Sixty percent of the unemployed have college degrees. Every year, a half million people are added to the unemployment roles.
“The main reason is one man, one guy, who thinks he’s superman is running the economy. He has no education or experience. No one man can be a genius for everything. No institutions in the country to fill our needs. There is instability in the monarchy.
“It is not just Saudi Arabia that is having economic problems. The whole region is not doing well economically. We have a bunch of incapable people running countries in the region. There is no institutionalized knowledge. Most projects have come to nothing. We are involved in wars with no results. We are five years in Yemen, 2 years in a conflict with Qatar; Sudan, and Egypt are also smoldering. We have a bad relationship with Morocco.
“If a conflict with Iran happens, we could have massive instability in the Saudi government. We are stretched too far.
“The Iranians have given the Yemenis very little, and still we cannot defeat them. This is the survival of the original Yemeni dynasty. I’m not sure anyone truly understands that. The war is costing $6 billion a month. Our coffers will run dry.”
Al-Ahmed described the Iranian regime as very weak, but regime change is overrated. He sees the Saudi regime as very vulnerable to war.
Regarding Israel, Al-Ahmed was also vocal. “I think the Saudis outmaneuvered Israel and Trump. The Kingdom is successfully convincing D.C. that we cannot go further with support for Israel or there will be revolution. The Saudi people actually have no problem with Israel.”
“Regarding Bahrain, the leader wants to survive and will spend the money in DC to do so. The Saudis want him to go.”