Karen is available to speak on the following topics:

Saudi Royal Succession:

The string of Al Saud brothers who have ruled Saudi Arabia since the death of their father, King Abdulaziz al Saud, in 1953 is nearing its end.  The monarchy in Saudi Arabia passes not from father to son but since King Abdulaziz, who fathered 44 sons, from brother to brother.  The current king is 90 years old and his crown prince is 76; their youngest brother is already 69.  So the kingdom, facing external threats (Iran, Syria, instability in Bahrain) and internal threats (deep divisions by region, tribe, gender and religious sect) can’t expect capable young leadership anytime soon as the extended Al Saud family of some 7000 princes can’t agree on a third-generation prince who might have the vision and vigor to lead the kingdom through needed reforms.  So, while the senior royals dodder on, the kingdom’s divisions deepen, the population’s frustrations grow and risks of instability rise.  Saudis watch the diminishing line of Al saud princes as if it were an old-fashioned timebomb with a lit fuse.  The wick burns ever shorter, advancing a moment of explosion that could the kingdom as we have known it.

Diversity and Division:

Beneath the facade of total uniformity presented by Saudi society–women shrouded in black, men robed in white–there is surprising diversity and deep division.  In a country where the regime has controlled people through divide-and-conquer tactics, dollars and duplicity, transparency made possible by I andnternet and social media is lifting the veil on these tactics, revealing deep divisions among regions, tribes, and sexes; between rulers and ruled; between young and old; between modernizers and traditionalists.  As the regime tries to accomodate some of the pressures for change, the backlash against any change from Islamic fundamentalists grows ever stronger, raising doubt whether an elderly and infirm band of rulers can continue to control a country where 60% of the population is under  20 years of age,  and where most Saudi men do not want to work at jobs they are qualified for and women are not permitted to work at jobs for which they are qualified.

Subjugated Women Drive Change:

Strict Wahhabi Islam teaches that a man must obey Allah and a woman must obey man, meaning that Saudi women must always be obedient to a male relative–father, husband, brother, son. There is no age of maturity and independence for a Saudi woman.  A growing number of Saudi women (women comprise 60% of university graduates) now are pushing back–confronting the so-called religious police, daring to drive, something illegal for a Saudi woman, and increasingly divorcing men who abuse them.  Armed with verses from the Koran indicating equality in Allah’s eyes between men and women, Saudi women are increasingly leading society’s efforts for change–a more equitable society for all Saudis, including women.

Saudi Arabia’s Importance in the Middle East:

In the increasingly unstable mideast, Saudi Arabia is the most important Arab nation–and the least understood.  Why should the world care about this shrouded kingdom?  Because it is the world’s leading exporter of oil, the lifeblood of global prosperity, and of Islamic terrorism, perhaps the greatest threat to world peace.  Yet because the kingdom’s royal family shrouds its secrets from both Saudis and foreigners and makes it difficult for all but the very intrepid to explore the kingdom, it remains all too impenetrable, which is exactly how the Al Saud rulers like it.  Conventional wisdom holds that the kingdom remains stable in a region of rising instability even as power passes from one geriatric leader to the next.  Yet, recall that the old Soviet Union, too, was viewed as  rock-solid as power passed rapidly from one old man to the next upon the death of Brezhnev.  Within a decade, the Soviet superpower imploded.  Does history hold a lesson here for those who equate stagnation with stability. stability.