This indicator is not assigned a score in the GDI.
Public opinion is generally difficult to garner in Saudi Arabia given the limited nature of public polls and surveys, furthermore, there are informal restrictions on free and frank responses in surveys when they pertain to issues relating to the government (respondents may not feel at liberty to directly criticize the government due to fear of reprisals). Saudi commentators have at times urged the government to tackle corruption, in online petitions and on social media; however, these demands do not typically relate to corruption in the defence and security sector but focus on widespread administrative and financial corruption (1).
According to our sources in Saudi Arabia, trust in the defence institutions is very high. Perhaps as a result of recent arrests and attempts of reform in Saudi Arabia, as well as an intensive propaganda program, it seems that trust in MBS and the government is high, especially the crackdown on corruption, which was politically motivated (2).
Saudi Arabia received a score of 49 out of 100 in the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index survey, which measures the extent of perceived corruption in the public sector from the perspective of business people and country experts (3). This is a three-point score increase from 2016 when the country scored 46 in the same survey, which aggregates various data sources, international surveys and corruption assessments (4). This appears to signal that perceptions of corruption in Saudi Arabia are decreasing somewhat, potentially as a result of recent announcements and actions of Mohammed bin Salman, who has made strong public overtures about his government’s aim to root out corruption and thus open up the local economy and business landscape to foreign investment through promoting increased transparency and accountability (5). Saudi media have reported on the recent anti-corruption purge (see above) highly positively, portraying the campaign as a much-needed battle against corruption. That being said, Saudi media is tightly controlled and pro-government.
Since the onset of its military campaign against neighbouring Yemen, the Saudi government has highlighted the war effort and promoted the armed forces, which is a relatively new phenomenon in the country. This is reflected in local media reporting on the Yemen war (6). There has been no public polling on local attitudes towards the military in Saudi Arabia. However, on forums, such as social media, which is one of the only avenues where Saudi citizens give their opinions publicly (and anonymously), many people express trust, support, and encouragement towards the Saudi military and particularly the war in Yemen (7), (8). Nevertheless, public criticism towards Saudi institutions, especially the military, would likely result in government reprisals.
According to Kristin Smith Diwan, an expert on Gulf affairs:
“Historically, the profiting of particular royals from their leadership positions in defence and security – whether for personal benefit or for enhancement of their public position within the royal family and ruling institutions – was fairly well known and understood within the Kingdom as part of the ruling bargain and patronage system. Under the new King Salman and Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammed bin Salman, there has been both a centralization of power and a public campaign to take up corruption as a problem that needs to be tackled. It is very difficult to get any genuine read on public opinion in Saudi Arabia, especially in today’s environment which allows for no independent questioning of the leadership and its direction. Since, in effect, the system is in transition it is reasonable to think that people’s opinions are also shifting and at least publicly being guided by the new nationalist sentiment. In these conditions it seems likely that A) most Saudis are enthusiastic about the campaign to combat corruption and that B) many politically savvy and informed Saudis will remain sceptical about these being applied to those who currently hold the reins of power” (9).