Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s founding in 1932, the royal family has derived its power primarily from the country’s enormous oil wealth. With the country now experiencing an acute economic challenge due to low oil prices, the royal family has generated a new blueprint, known as “Vision 2030,” outlining its plan to modernize its economy and society while allowing it to maintain its hold on power. The plan includes greater integration of women and young Saudis into the workforce, largely out of economic necessity. Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior Mohammed bin Nayef has been removed from the royal line of succession and replaced by King Salman’s son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman. The defense minister’s appointment marks the beginning of a new era in royal family power succession. Bin Salman’s appointment also comes as he manages Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has brought malnutrition and starvation to Yemen’s people, and been labeled by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
In a new paper titled “Saudi Arabia in Transition,” Karen Elliott House, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has visited Saudi Arabia for nearly 40 years and a current senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, analyzes the progress the Saudis have made and the challenges they face in implementing Vision 2030 amidst the recent changes in leadership.
On September 20, the Brookings Intelligence project hosted Elliott House for a discussion on her findings, the Trump administration’s Saudi Arabia policy, and Iran’s activities in the region. Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project and a senior fellow, moderated the discussion. Following their remarks, Elliott House and Riedel took questions from the audience.