Policy Research: Emerging Risks in Saudi Arabia’s Geopolitical Landscape

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Since the introduction of Vision 2030 by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) in 2017, Saudi Arabia has witnessed significant transformations. The policy paper evaluates the socio-economic and political changes in Saudi Arabia, focusing on the period leading up to 2025, a crucial benchmark in the Vision 2030 timeline. The paper categorizes risks into social, political, economic, and geopolitical domains, assessing them with a five-tiered system ranging from low to high. Key findings include:

Social Risks (Medium to High): The Sunni-Shia divide, particularly the marginalization of the Shia minority, poses a high risk of social conflict, potentially escalating to civil unrest. The paper also highlights terrorism and resistance to education reforms as other significant social risks.

Political Risks (Medium to Low): Internal dynamics, such as potential coup attempts and reactions to democratization efforts, present medium risks. The likelihood of foreign sanctions against MBS is considered low.

Economic Risks (Medium): Unemployment, particularly among youth, inflation, and structural weaknesses in the economy, are identified as key economic challenges.

Geopolitical Risks (Medium to Low): The ongoing tensions with Iran, involvement in the Yemen conflict, and fluctuating U.S.-Saudi relations are highlighted as primary geopolitical concerns.

The paper recommends multinational corporations consider entering the Saudi market but advises against establishing operations in Dammam, given the high risk of the Shia-Sunni conflict in the Eastern provinces. Instead, cities like Jeddah are suggested as more viable options. The paper concludes that while Saudi Arabia presents balanced risks across various domains, careful navigation, and strategic planning are essential for successful engagement in the evolving Saudi socio-political and economic environment.

Main Author: Zhuangyan Shi

Co-authors: Shujia Zhang, Weifeng Xu, and Leah del Fierro

Research Paper Type: Middle East Policy Report

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