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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

5 - From affluence to austerity, 1973–1990


The short-lived oil embargo that Saudi Arabia together with other Arab oil-producing countries imposed on the United States and Europe, in support of Egypt's 1973 war with Israel, brought Saudi Arabia to the attention of the world. The embargo led to dramatic increases in oil prices, allowing Saudi Arabia to enjoy an unprecedented affluence, which facilitated internal modernisation, strengthened the ability of the regime to extend services, enforced state control over the population and created dependency on its resources. Faysal's economic and social reforms in the late 1960s could now be implemented and even expanded with his increased revenues.

However, the new wealth of the 1970s increased the vulnerability of the Saʿudi regime and pushed its leadership to search for ‘patrons’ to protect it against internal and external threats. Saudi Arabia continued to look towards the United States to play the role of protector and guarantor of its security. While Saudi Arabia had been enjoying a close liaison with the United States since after the Second World War, this relationship became increasingly ‘troubled’ in the 1970s. Partnership with the United States became more urgent in the aftermath of the new wealth in a country that lacked the human and technological resources to guarantee its own security. Saudi Arabia had the financial means to purchase security, but at a very high price.