Saudi Arabia’s key role in the Middle East

The Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, October 2018
Oct. 23, 2018: Saudi Arabia’s economic and social transformation is crucial to the entire Middle East, as shown by the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh (source: dpa)
  • Saudi Arabia’s push for structural reforms has reached a very delicate stage
  • Regional rivals and some disgruntled Saudi elites are trying to derail the transition
  • The kingdom must improve governance, but Western sanctions will make things worse

Over the past 10 years, the axis of conflict in the Middle East has shifted in gradual stages from the Israeli-Palestinian struggle to rivalry between three regional powers – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The so-called Arab Spring ultimately led to catastrophic civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen, which became proxy wars between regional powers, but also involved the United States and Russia, as all strove to expand their spheres of influence. Among regional players, Egypt lost its central role as it became absorbed in domestic problems. Turkey, on the other hand, shed its longtime policy of noninterference and began to expand its political and military presence.

Just as significant as this new power configuration is an emerging rift between followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and the region’s stable monarchies.

In both dimensions, important changes are taking place.

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