"Let's call them friends of Saudi Arabia," Khashoggi said of those receiving patronage. "Saudi Arabia pays them money handsomely for various services such as influence, protection, stability. That's what matters in Saudi Arabia."
In fact, said Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, "the Saudis have really gotten very little for their money, but have a dilemma in that they can't cut it off entirely. Yemen needs the money, and without it, it would probably implode."
Saleh himself likewise governed through his own patronage system, divvying out Yemen's wealth and influence to elites to keep them on his side and blocking development of state institutions in the process.
The lack of focus on government-building, including the failure to build a functioning tax system, means that whoever succeeds Saleh "is going to need Saudi 110 percent," said Fernando Carvajal, an expert on Saudi-Yemeni relations at Britain's University of Exeter. Yemen will need Saudi Arabia's money "for restructuring and to pay a new patronage network."
As a result, rival candidates for power seem to be pitching a line that they think will hook the conservative Saudis -- with members of the official coalition of opposition parties telling reporters that democracy is an adventure that Yemen's not quite ready for, Carvajal noted.
Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, and countries around the world that have pledged aid to Yemen say they will open the taps for development and aid in Yemen after the GCC deal clears.
For now, though, all wait for Saleh to quit, if he ever does. From his hospital bed, Saleh promised King Abdullah in a phone call last month that he would sign the GCC deal, according to Prince Turki. (Saleh has reneged on the same promise to others at least three times. The Yemen leader will try to go back to Yemen, one official predicted, if he has to roll himself there "in a wheelchair.")
If Saleh signs, Saleh's son and nephews, who have refused to yield up the presidential palace or their loyalist forces in Saleh's absence, will be no problem, Prince Turki predicted. He made a shooing gesture: "Boys, go on."
Beyond that, the al-Saud family has no desire to immerse itself in Yemen, the prince maintained. He cited the second cautionary tale on Yemen from the late King Abdul Aziz: In the 1930s, the king's sons Saud and Faisal entered Yemen in a dispute with the then-ruling Yemeni imams. Faisal, in his youthful enthusiasm, raced with his troops far down the Yemeni coast and urged his father to take advantage of his military advance.
No, pull back to the border, King Abdul Aziz is supposed to have directed his headstrong son. "That is Yemen. You don't stay in Yemen."