Saudi Arabia: Behind The Bloodbath

Economic and social instability point to more attacks

The terrorists responsible for the June 25 bomb attack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, are likely to be caught. The ruthless Saudi internal security services have a good record in tracking down suspects. Just weeks after a similar bloody attack in Riyadh on Nov. 13, Saudi police rounded up the four alleged perpetrators, who were later beheaded.

Unfortunately, capturing those involved is not likely to put an end to the spiral of discontent and violence that is shaking not only Saudi Arabia but also other gulf nations that are backed by the U.S. The tiny island state of Bahrain has recently been wracked by car bombs, assassinations, and wide-scale arrests.

At the root of the problem is a dwindling economic pie that makes it tougher for ruling families to buy political loyalty. Saudi Arabia's population has more than doubled in less than 20 years, sending per capita gross domestic product down from $12,000 in 1982 to barely $7,000 today. Higher oil prices are giving some short-term budget relief but are not changing the big picture.

Meanwhile, a mediocre educational system stressing Islam is churning out an army of unemployable youth--prime targets for proselytizing by homegrown Islamic groups, who are probably responsible for the bombings. The Saudi situation is not helped by a potential succession crisis: King Fahd, 75 and ailing, seems reluctant to yield power to his 74-year-old half-brother Abdullah, and there are no rules about how power will eventually pass to several hundred third-generation princes. The writing on the wall: More trouble is coming.

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