The challenge for the rulers of one of the region's wealthiest and most conservative nations has been to address pressure for reform while combating a growing problem of Islamist violence and unrest in the oil-rich Eastern Province, home to a restive Shia minority.
Opposition movements are banned in the kingdom, home to some of Islam's most sacred places.
However, in recent months several people have died in clashes with security forces in Eastern Province.
There region has seen a series of demonstrations by the Shia Muslim minority in solidarity with protesters in Bahrain and to demand an end to what they perceive as anti-Shia discrimination.
King Abdullah II has made some cautious moves towards reform. In September 2011 it was announced that, beginning in 2015, women would be able to vote in municipal elections, and stand for election themselves.
However, demands for other reforms from activists have not been successful.
Manal al-Sharif led a campaign for women to be allowed to drive which received widespread international backing. However, she was jailed for nine days in May 2011 after posting a video of herself driving in the city of Khobar.
And prominent human rights activist Mohammed al-Bajadi was reportedly jailed for four years in April 2012 after being arrested at a pro-democracy demonstration in 2011.
If the Saudis have played a role in the "Arab Spring" at all, it has perhaps been to support fellow governments under pressure: Saudi soldiers were sent to Bahrain to help shore up the government and it was to Saudi Arabia that Tunisia's ousted leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fled in January.
The Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after being seriously injured in a rocket attack on his compound in June 2011.
Meanwhile, the Saudi royal family has suffered the deaths of two of its leading members. In October 2011 heir apparent Crown Prince Sultan died, and his successor Crown Prince Nayef passed away eight months later.
Prince Salman, who was named as Prince Nayef's successor, is thought to be liberal-minded, but analysts say his appointment is unlikely to bring substantive change.