When we think of ruling families in a monarchist state, the pre-modern design points to the United Kingdom and Vatican City as “successful” post-modern governance. The UK employs what we call a Constitutional Monarchy, in which the title of King or Queen undertakes various ceremonial and diplomatic duties, while an elected Prime Minister holds most executive power.
The Vatican as we know constitutes an Absolute Monarchy in the form of an appointed Catholic Church official declared as Pope, meaning father. Western media gives heavy precedence to these forms of monarchist states, one being religious, the other hereditary, while dissipating the absolutist power of several other governing states in the Eastern world. The monarchy wielding the most absolutist power for the past 80 years has been the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia became a kingdom in 1932 as King Abdulaziz, also known as Ibn Saud, conquered most of Arabia following his capture of Riyadh in 1902. This led to the Saud family regaining power and controlling Arabia until this day. Unlike the UK, which has about 50 hereditary options in the line of succession for King or Queen, Saudi Arabia’s House of Saud has an estimated 15,000 members of the royal family vying for the throne. 2,000 of these family members control a vast majority of the wealth and power in Saudi Arabia. Here, the king holds absolute political power.
In most political states, corruption occurs in the form of politicians taking advantage of the state and, in a sense, stealing from the state. Here, the king is the state, so he does not have to “steal” from what is already under his power and ownership. This leads to corruption being a part of the inherent structure of its monarchist system, as opposed to a form of political undertaking.
Estimates of the royal net worth are around $1.4 trillion, which the over 10,000 princes use as a means for political influence to keep the commoners at bay, while there is a new form of dissension brewing between the state and the people. The inevitable attack against the state is being constantly postponed by paying commoners to favor the state, while distrust among the people grows even larger.
Given the exorbitant amount of wealth Saudi Arabia possesses, poverty should not be an issue. However, about a month ago, a twitter campaign with the Arabic hashtag, #الراتب_مايكفي_الحاجة, meaning “The salary does not meet my needs,” reached over 17 million tweets in the first two weeks. At its peak, it reached 1.2 million tweets a day and was the 16th most popular hashtag around the world, while being the most popular hashtag in Arabic.
This is a massive online demonstration that shows Saudi Arabia’s wealth (precisely allocated to the royal’s) is not allowing for its common citizens to live a genuinely comfortable life. Meanwhile, the House of Saud is paying handouts that amount to about a third of the government budget to countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, while also paying for the new Riyadh Metro “mega project.”
The online protests against the disparity of wealth distribution are a sign of small demonstrations that have already been taking place in Saudi Arabia against the House of Saud. People are realizing the more they delay this process of rebellion, the more self-destructive this so-called revolution could be.
Change is occurring in Saudi Arabia, and a paradigm shift in this absolutist monarchy is seemingly shifting, albeit gradually.
– Sagar Jay Patel