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Can the West Finally Turn Off Its Tolerance for the Saudis?

30/07/2013 15:44 BST | Updated 29/09/2013 10:12 BST

Earlier this week, the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal stated that his country is economically threatened by the rise in the use of fracking technology - the process of recovering gas and oil from shale rock - across the globe.

In an open letter to Saudi's oil minister, Ali al Naimi and other government heads, he argued for the Gulf Arab Kingdom to lessen its dependency on crude oil, and to broaden its revenues, arguing that demand for oil from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states was "in continuous decline".

Undoubtedly, the Prince is correct in his observation; the recent increase in shale energy supplies in the US has cut global demand for Saudi oil. This is only likely to continue since America, as well as Canada and Britain seek to utilise unconventional oil deposits.

Whilst publicly Saudi officials deny they are concerned about the rise in fracking, OPEC has addressed the potency of the issue. Indeed, earlier this month, it predicted that demand for its oil in 2014 would average 29.61 million barrels per day (mbpd), which is 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) less than in 2013.

Saudi's budget this year forecasts that 92% of its revenue will be from oil. This dependency is, the Prince stated: "a truth that has really become a source of worry for many". And it is of little surprise that he is concerned, since if the West becomes self-dependent for energy, then it will have severe geopolitical repercussions for Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC member states. In other words, the power they once held may be coming to an end. For instance, it seems unlikely that the OPEC of today could hold the West to political ransom in the same way that it did in 1973 during the Arab-Israeli war, when it called for an oil embargo after the US supplied Israel with arms.

To counter this looming decline in revenue, several OPEC states have attempted to diversify their economies. Reportedly Saudi Arabia has attempted to liberalise its aviation sector, as well as provide capital to small, entrepreneurial firms in both the technology and service sectors. Whether such diversification will be enough to sustain its ever-growing population if oil prices collapse remains to be seen.

For decades, the West has tolerated Saudi Arabia because of their oil supply. A blind eye has been turned as the country continually abused religious and political minorities, apostates, homosexuals, and women. Just this year, as the West called for a democratic and peaceful solution to the conflicts in Syria, Egypt, and the rest of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia increased the amount of arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents, and reacted with force to demonstrations by its citizens. Unsurprisingly, this was seemingly overlooked by the West.

The West has also largely ignored the fact that Saudi Arabia is the largest funder of Salfi jihadist militant groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba in South Asia. The horrors orchestrated by such groups against civilians, soldiers, and aid-workers are all well-documented.

The West has also made allowances for the fact that it is Saudi Arabia which has historically been the largest backer of the Palestinian militant Islamic group, Hamas; an organisation that has inflicted utter beggary and serfdom upon the Palestinians of Gaza, as well as committed acts of terror against Israel. Little fuss, moreover, was made in the West to the recent news that Saudi has ballistic rocket launchers facing the Jewish State.

Yet, with the rise of fracking, this could be all about to change. If the West becomes self-sufficient for energy, not only will it no longer have to tolerate Saudi Arabia, but economically, the country could be utterly devastated, which might potentially curtail global Islamic terrorism.

There is an old Jewish joke about God leading Moses to the only spot in the Middle East without oil, on the basis that He had a sense of humour. If fracking proves to be a successful oil alternative, then it would seem that such a deity also had common sense, too.