Skip to main content

Saudi executions signal royal worries

Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, including a poplar Shiite cleric, point to the royal family's growing concerns about the kingdom's stability.
Iranian protesters chant slogans as they hold pictures of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against the execution of Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran January, 3, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY.  - RTX20VH0

The executions of 47 accused terrorists in Saudi Arabia Jan. 2 and subsequent severing of relations with Iran underscore the Saudi royal family's deep concerns about stability in the kingdom. The mass executions are a warning that dissent will not be tolerated, especially by Iranian-supported dissidents.

The kingdom faces a potentially perfect storm of low oil income, open-ended war in Yemen, terrorist threats from multiple directions and an intensifying regional rivalry with its nemesis Iran. The most dangerous threat is economic. The Saudi welfare state — which provides subsidies for health and housing, cheap gasoline and free education — is already being cut back because of the large deficit between oil revenues and government spending. Last years' deficit totaled $98 billion and foreign reserves dropped from $728 billion to less than $640 billion. With Iranian oil returning to the market, Saudi revenues could be depleted even faster than anticipated in the 2016 budget.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.