Stung by falling oil prices, Saudi Arabia has cut spending and subsidies as part of harsh austerity measures that threaten the lavish welfare programs underpinning its stability.
The oil-exporting giant’s economy has gone from producing windfalls to deficits, and Saudi rulers increasingly struggle to provide the cushy government jobs, expensive state handouts and tax-free living that have long bought them domestic obedience.
The pivot to austerity — which also has been imposed by neighboring Gulf Arab oil monarchies — risks triggering unrest in a Saudi society that is conservative and particularly resistant to change, analysts and diplomats warn.
The cutbacks are seen as necessary by King Salman’s son, defense minister and head of economic planning, Mohammed bin Salman. The 30-year-old prince has raised eyebrows for overseeing leadership shake-ups at home and two wars abroad. Advisers say he also intends to wean the country off its overwhelming dependence on oil sales and reform a bloated and opaque public sector.