“It’s getting hot in here/So take off all your thobes/I am getting so hot/I’m gonna riot and then throw oil markets into chaos.”

Seven months ago, Saudi Arabia began an amnesty to allow illegal workers to leave the kingdom without fine or punishment.  The result has been up to one million people fleeing the country – and untold thousands staying behind to see if they can weather the change.

The ensuing riots in Riyadh are unlikely to spread to anything that could threaten state control, since the rioters themselves were not Saudis, but just desperate African workers who refused to go with the program.  But it’s indicative of the cracking of Saudi state power.

Does anyone really think Saudis are going to fill all those empty, menial jobs?

Saudi police move in for the kill.

Saudis’ attitudes towards hard labor are well-documented.  Most of those who’ve been forced out were cleaners, maids, service people, and other low-skilled work that Saudis typically look down on.  A culture of service has taken root in the kingdom, one that will likely prevent Saudis from doing the jobs that have just supposedly been opened by this mass exodus.

So suddenly, large sectors of the economy will suffer labor shortages, which will in turn hurt growth, which will in turn make the economy ever more dependent on oil receipts to function.  Saudi unemployment won’t tick down much, if at all – in fact, a slowdown could actually cause an increase.  What a wonderful fuck-up that’d be.

Saudi Arabia’s security services are busier than ever

With distubances in the Eastern Province becoming a regular thang, and now these laborers showing that even the poorest and least represented can stand up to the security services (although not win), how long until the infection of disobedience and rebellion takes root in Saudi’s teeming unemployed youth?  Saudis may, temporarily, close ranks against the ‘foreign threat’ – as people do.  They certainly won’t join arm and arm with these migrants who are now being ridden into the ground by the kingdom’s security forces.  But what happens when the day come that someone in the government fucks off the wrong community?  Perhaps a corrupt prince who demands a bribe from the wrong people at the wrong time?  Or even a cop who just moves a fruit cart while remembering to humiliate the vendor?

The cracks are all there

There’s no legal or cultural way in Saudi Arabia to enact the big changes needed to save the state.  Saudi’s state ideology is too rigid and changing it requires facing down the powerful conservative Wahhabist religious establishment.  Now the Saudis have done this before – they fought the Ikhwan War against their first batch of too-conservative-for-life allies in the 1920s and won.  But it was still a war and not precisely the ideal model to follow for the 21st century.

With unemployment high, Saudi Arabians dependent on handouts or easy public sector jobs, a cultural divide between east, west, and central regions, a poor sense of nationalism, a ruthless and widely disliked government, and no way to change any of this peacefully, one merely needs to await the domino effect.  These riots aren’t the beginning; Saudis will stay clear.  But they set the stage.  The kingdom is a dry place with tons of oil.  Any kind of spark is dangerous.

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