What's on your mind when you think of Saudi-Arabia?
Oil fields, seas of yellow sand, medieval social policies, guys holding hands, bed sheets as clothes?
Well, maybe it's about time to think of Saudi-Arabia as a regional power, if not great power. An unconventional one - a new great power.
Here are the signs that made me think about Saudi-Arabia possibly turning into a great power:
Their intervention in Qatar to oppress Qatar's Shi'ite majority in favour of the Sunni monarchy.
inover Syria and Iraq against Daesh
inover Yemen against the Shi'ite civil war party known as Houthis
Their cultural export of wahhabism
Their foreign aid to Comores etc.
Their unique privilege and opportunity to be the protector of Mecca and Medina and resulting prestige gain amongst about 1.5 billion Muslims
Their high (albeit inefficiently used) military expenditures
They politically lead the Gulf states against Shi'ite powers and (less cohesively so) against Daesh as well
Them being the anchor for the regional regimes' orientation towards EU and U.S.
Their central geographical position between Persian Gulf and Red Sea
Their relatively large (~ 31 million) population compared to many other countries in the region
Saudi-Arabia used to tail-wag the U.S. for its purposes in regard to Persian Gulf maritime security and security against Saddam's Iraq, but this has lessened considerably.
Let's compare to another great power, Russia:
Russia doesn't do interventions or exercises much influence globally. Maybe it does the latter even less than Saudi-Arabia. A foreign policy with a regional focus does not prohibit great power status. Japan is being considered a great power without exercising substantial influence beyond its own region (or even only in its own region).
China is even more similar, albeit less prone to interventions: It's exercising economic influence in much of the world, just as does the Saudi "royal" (kleptocrat) house: They used the trade balance surpluses of the past to buy many shares of large European and American corporations.
The Saudi position, capabilities and actions look dissimilar to Apartheid South Africa and Israel, two countries that felt encircled with enemies (for good reason) and proceeded to wreck their neighbourhood with conflicts. Saudi-Arabia's kleptocrat regime feels threatened by both potential Shi'ite or out-of-control radical Sunni (Salafist) uprisings mostly.*
They look dissimilar for now, maybe because it's difficult to attribute who exactly contributed how much to the mess in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. This may change, and Saudi-Arabia may very well prove to be comparable to Apartheid South Africa and Israel.
*: Though not the few Shi'ites in Saudi-Arabia itself..