King Fahd of Saudi Arabia died last night. There have been signs of trouble in Saudi Arabia for quite some time. King Fahd has not been well since a major stroke in 1995, and his successor, Crown Prince Abdullah, has been the de facto ruler since.
There have been hints of problems in Saudi Arabia for years. I have wondered a few times if recent US military actions in the region haven't been aimed at establishing another "friendly port" once King Fahd died. Saudi Arabia's government has always been an odd tension between the powers of the Monarchy and the will of Wahhabi clerics. It's not at all clear just how much of the Saud family's power is "at the pleasure" of the Wahhabist clerics.
In the last decade or so, there have been a number of bombings of US military and civilian compounds in Saudi Arabia, as well as assorted random bombings of Saudi installations. These provide clues that under the surface, there are groups in Saudi Arabia who want some kind of change.
It seems quite likely that these groups have been biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to arise to become more active. Even though King Abdullah has been the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia for quite some time, conflicts within the Royal Family no doubt create opportunities which some will use as an opportunity to attempt to forward their cause - either through political maneuvering or outright violence.
Will Saudi Arabia descend into civil war? I'm not sure. I do expect that the cozy relationship between Washington and Riyadh will change considerably in the coming months and years.
Oddly, with the current mess in Iraq, a "less malleable" Saudi Arabia might be a good thing for the Arab world. Short of military force, it seems unlikely that a pro-American government will last very long in Iraq. While I'm sure that the Arab countries will be quite happy to sell their oil to America and other western interests, we may see a veil drawn around those countries for a period of time as they define themselves as entities on the world stage. We saw that with Iran after the revolution that overthrew the Shah, with Iran emerging as a major player on the world stage in the wake of the the Iran-Iraq war.