Following to the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Sa‘ud, announced on the early morning of January 23rd on Saudi state television, and the crowing of his half-brother Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Sa‘ud, the world has moved to understand nuances in the transition from the old to the new King.
In a changing Middle East, the Gulf monarchies have emerged as increasingly proactive players. Over the last decade, they have diversified their interests and relations, while deepening their cultural and economic penetration, particularly in the other Arab countries. The steady increase of the hydrocarbon prices has been a significant source of wealth for these countries, allowing them to maintain sustained economic growth rates. Paired with high public expenditure, the Gulf countries are able to make important investment in key sectors both domestically and abroad. However, the spark of the Arab Spring has revealed the deep fragility of the Middle East conservative systems. The Gulf monarchies also faced internal protests and crises, as was seen in Bahrain. To counter such threats, the monarchies adopted a very conservative – and even reactionary – approach towards the unrest within the GCC, also allocating substantial financial incentives to buy off any potential discontent. Furthermore, the Gulf Sheikhdoms faced a set of challenges stemming from the regional turmoil. Nonetheless, the recent wave of changes experienced by the region brought a series of opportunities. Thanks to the significant economic resources at their disposal, the Gulf monarchies have increased their geopolitical weight and influence especially toward the Arab countries in transition. At the regional level their relations with Turkey have gained new momentum and have found new areas of convergence, while on the international stage, the Gulf rulers are developing deep ties with East and south Asia expected to grow substantially in the coming decades.