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Gulf Arabs warily eye Tunisia, Egypt revolts

Gulf Arabs warily eye Tunisia, Egypt revolts

Oil wealth prosperity provides cushion, for now; Saudi Arabia's role and stability will be key; Brewing concern among Gulf populace.

February 2, 2011 11:13 by

As a key U.S. ally and influential bankroller for the Arab world, stability in Saudi Arabia is important not just for the region but the world as it shapes both political and oil policy.

In terms of timing, the revolt in Egypt could not have come at a worse time for King Abdullah, who left New York last week after undergoing medical treatment.

But the king is in Morocco, not Saudi Arabia, convalescing, leaving Crown Prince Sultan — also suffering from undisclosed ailments — in charge and raising concerns over succession.

That leaves Interior Minister Prince Nayef as a possible candidate for future king, a conservative who could roll back or slow the pace of Abdullah’s reforms, diplomats say.

Eventually, the throne will have to be handed to a new generation of Saudi princes, and even though the king has set up an ‘allegiance council’ to regulate succession it is not clear when, or how that will work in practice.

By that time, the Arab political landscape surrounding Saudia Arabia could well be dramatically different.

“Arabs now know they have the power of revolt, the power of numbers. In that sense, the Arab world can never go back to what it was one month ago,” said Hamid of Doha’s Brookings Centre. “Every single regime will be by definition unstable from now until they fall.”

(By Erika Solomon and Ulf Laessing. Additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai and Asma Alsharif in Jeddah; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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