The Saudi royal family has been struck by the fear that what once seemed unthinkable now looks possible.
The oil-rich monarchy is facing an unprecedented outpouring of public dissatisfaction, demonstrations and strikes.
Ordinary Saudis have issued petitions against corruption and nepotism, and launched a campaign for a constitutional monarchy.
Power in Saudi Arabia, a vital US ally, rests with the ruling family and the so-called “one thousand princes”.
Yet despite the vast oil wealth, large sections of the population live in poverty.
In the east, where the majority are Shia Muslims, protests including many women have erupted demanding the release of jailed dissidents.
The royal family has responded with a massive financial bribe, promising local elections and the right for women to vote (but not stand).
The regime is also threatening harsh repression.
Last week the administrator of a Facebook group calling for a “day of rage” against the regime was murdered, and other known dissidents arrested.
The highest religious authorities have instructed people not to join any protest, while some 10,000 soldiers have been mobilised to crush any public protest.