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They started by building the us-owned Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco) in Dhahran, near Dammam on the persian Gulf, which provided for the orderly exploitation of the worlds greatest fuel supply. (The saudi government acquired part-ownership of Aramco in the 1970s and took full control in 1980.) And then they used Aramco itself to transform what house describes as an impoverished and backward land into an advanced nation with almost miraculous speed: Americans provided the skills. However, very little of this story turns out to be true. The Al saud did not consolidate power until the third decade of the twentieth century; and important parts of saudi society were highly developed (and not necessarily under Wahhabi control) at the time oil was discovered. In the hijaz region on the western coast, there was a tradition of civil association going back for centuries. Before the saudi conquest, the cosmopolitan Red sea port of Jeddah had sizable populations of Indians and Europeans who together with powerful local merchants traded in spices and other goods; and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina had large corporations that drew revenues from. In the 1920s and 1930s, these and other cities in the hijaz had political parties, elected councils, and a flourishing press. For its part, Aramco was far from a benign instrument of enlightened development, as the political scientist and historian Robert Vitalis has shown in devastating detail. 4 Brutally exploiting the local population, it produced a workers movement in the 1940s and 1950s that at moments threatened to destabilize the country. Indeed, in the early years of oil, the structure of the monarchy itself was open to debate: at the beginning of the 1960s, king saud, who had succeeded Abdul aziz in 1953, briefly installed a reform cabinet that included several commoners and set out. Ahmed Mater/Athr Gallery, jeddah The saudi artist Ahmed Maters evolution of Man, 2010. Born in 1979 and trained as a doctor, mater has said that artists must reflect whats zeelandnet happening around them. Notwhat people already know. The reasons saudi Arabia became the authoritarian us client state we know today—rather than the more pluralistic society this early experience might have foretold—is the subject of Sarah yizraelis revelatory new study, politics and Society in saudi Arabia: The Crucial years of development.
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Many of the wrinkle young feel their future is being stolen from them. And yet apart from the Shia in the eastern Province, young saudis have shown remarkably little interest in taking to the streets. 2 Confronted with this paradox, house reverts to an unpersuasive account of the national character. Saudis, she insists, are overwhelmingly passive and largely somnolent; pervasive social conformity has made them sullen—a word she uses throughout her book—but unable to turn grievances to action. But there is hardly anything passive about the countrys burgeoning political blogosphere, its growing population of young professionals with American degrees who are bridled by saudi traditions, or even its leading clerics, some of whom not only issue opinions at odds with the regime but. After spending years in jail, for example, former radical preacher Salman al-Awdah decries the inability of the leadership to connect with youth and tweets to nearly two million followers about the need for change. In Jeddah, i met young artists and underground filmmakers who gather in private homes to discuss politics and screen movies in defiance of a general ban on cinemas. Even Buraydah—a deeply religious town in the center of the country that, according to house, is so conservative that parents there protested the introduction of girls schools—now has a local womens organization that has taken on womens rights issues, microcredit schemes, and legal advocacy. 3 More important, then, is the matter of how the saudi government has been able to prevent such social activism from turning against the regime itself. To a remarkable degree, western assumptions about saudi Arabia still begin and end with the rub al-Khali, or the Empty quarter, the vast barren expanse engulfing the lower third of the Arabian Peninsula that ranks as the largest sand desert in the world. It was on the fringes of the Empty quarter that oil was discovered in the 1930s, and it was through experiences among the nomadic Bedu (Bedouins) here that twentieth-century explorers like wilfred Thesiger introduced Arabia to western audiences. From this basis emerged the story that has been taken for granted until today: spurred by the Standard Oil Company of California, a former subsidiary of John. Rockefellers Standard Oil, the us government entered into an unshakable alliance with the house of saud, a powerful tribal dynasty from the najd (Central Arabia) heartland whose hegemony could be traced back to the eighteenth century.
system in which rules of behavior and appearance are not fully codified, allowing the ruling family to use religion to tighten or loosen its grip. Regarding saudi women, however, house finds appalling evidence that some are subjected to virtual slavery, in which wives and daughters can be physically, psychologically, and sexually abused at the whim of male family members, who are protected by an all-male criminal system and judiciary. Both authors lament the saudi education system, which in the clutches of the religious establishment has produced what Lippman calls a lost generation of young saudis. But Lippman argues that the king has embarked on an education revolution—purging school textbooks of inflammatory material, spending nearly 4 billion to establish a top-flight coed university north of Jeddah, and sending more than 100,000 young saudis abroad to study; while house maintains that the. The two books concur that the saudi government has made hardly any progress in weaning itself from oil. For house this shows how unproductive, dysfunctional, brittle, and ossified the economy has become. Yet Lippman observes that the steady flow of crude has allowed the regime not only to withstand the Arab Spring but also to spend hundreds of billions of its revenue preparing saudis for a post-oil future. Where does all this leave the Al saud monarchy? Is continued rule by what house calls more old men in their eighties a symptom of imminent collapse or of exceptional longevity? Certainly, in Jeddah and riyadh, it is not difficult to find young people who are acutely aware of the freedoms they are denied, and house is probably correct to see multiplying troubles ahead: High birthrates, poor education, a male aversion to manual labor or service.
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Contrary to haarband its desert image, saudi Arabia is a highly urbanized country in which five large metropolitan areas—riyadh in the center, jeddah, mecca, and Medina in the west, and Dammam on the persian Gulf—account for more than two thirds of the population. Riyadh, the saudi capital, is a houstonian sprawl of offices, malls, and suv-clogged thoroughfares; it is possible to miss the Grand Mosque if you are not looking for. More affluent districts are filled with American fast food chains, British department stores, and French hypermarkets. Scruffier neighborhoods, like bathaa in riyadhs Old City, feature the usual array of outdoor market stalls, electronics stores, and long-distance call centers, many of them clearly catering to a large immigrant population from south Asia. Seen from a car window, there is little to distinguish it from large cities in many other countries. And yet at ground level, everything is different. The suvs are all driven by men, many of them foreigners: since women are forbidden to drive, it is standard for middle-class households to employ a driver; but it is frowned upon for women to be chauffeured by saudis (or other Arabs) who are not. Though women can purchase the latest upscale western fashions at almost any saudi mall, they are expected to wear a black abaya at all times and may be harassed by the committee to Prevent Vice and Promote virtue, the countrys religious police, if their hair. And in downtown cellulite riyadh, not far from one of the main shopping districts, is a square where public beheadings sometimes take place. Mike king, lippman and house are both sensitive to these disconcerting contrasts.
Meanwhile, there are now some seven thousand princes in the ever-growing royal family, each getting some share of the mostly hidden national budget. Faced with such intractable challenges, can the us-backed regime survive? Two new surveys of the country, both written since the Arab Spring by veteran American journalists, arrive at dramatically different answers. Karen Elliott house, a former managing editor. The wall Street journal, sees a country whose people are seething with discontent and whose leadership reminds her of the dying decade of the soviet Union. On saudi Arabia: Its people, past, religion, fault Lines—and Future, she envisions a potential crash when the crown passes to the third generation. Covering much the same ground, however, Thomas. Washington Post reporter who has been traveling to saudi Arabia for more than three decades, finds scant evidence that any substantial portion of the saudi population wants to replace the regime. Saudi Arabia on the Edge, he is generally bullish about a monarchy he regards as surprisingly adaptive and exceptionally well armed with cash. For better or for worse, he writes, the outside world can assume that the house of saud will stand—provided that oil revenue continues to flow into its coffers.
Saudi Arabia1, and young men and women all over the country are exceptionally well connected by new media: only Egypt ranks ahead in Facebook usage in the region; a higher proportion of saudis now use Twitter and than almost any other nation in the world. This has made it easier to expose alleged corruption by members of the royal family, as one anonymous Twitter user, mujtahidd, with apparent inside sources, has been doing, attracting more than 800,000 followers in the process. (A mujtahid is a scholar with independent authority to interpret Islamic law.). In stark contrast to the countrys youthful population, the Al saud dynasty often seems geriatric and disconnected. Though he has worn the crown for only seven years, Abdullah was crown prince for twenty-three years before he became king, and commander of the national guard for nearly half a century. He has not been in good health; his medical visits to the United States often generate as much comment as his trips as head of state. Moreover, bistro owing to saudi Arabias unusual system of succession, there is little likelihood that a charismatic young reformer will soon ascend to the throne. The current monarch is supposed to designate a successor, or crown prince, from among his younger brothers—the remaining survivors of the founding kings thirty-seven sons by more than twenty wives—before the monarchy passes to the third generation, many of whose members are already middle-aged. In 2006, king Abdullah established an allegiance council made up of senior princes to ratify succession decisions, a step that also seems designed to reinforce conservatism. Two of Abdullahs successive crown princes, themselves in their late seventies and mid-eighties, respectively, have died in the past year; the current crown prince, abdullahs half-brother Prince salman, is a comparatively young seventy-six.
She replied: no ones talking about it anymore. All the constitutional monarchists have been jailed. Among the many enigmas about the increasingly elderly group of brothers who have ruled saudi Arabia since 1953—the year in which their father, Abdul aziz, the countrys modern founder, died—is how they have continually evaded the forces of change. Despite saudi control of the largest petroleum reserves in the world, decades of rapid population growth have reduced per capita income to a fraction of that of smaller Persian Gulf neighbors. Even the people of Bahrain, a country with little oil that has roiled with unrest since early 2011, are wealthier. Having nearly doubled in twenty years to 28 million, the saudi population includes over eight million registered foreign residents, many of them manual laborers or domestic workers. Illegal migrants, who enter on Hajj (pilgrimage) visas, or across the porous Yemeni border, may account for two million more. With three quarters of its own citizens now under the age of thirty, saudi Arabia faces many of the same social problems as Egypt and Yemen. By some estimates, nearly 40 percent of saudis between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are unemployed, and quite apart from al-qaeda, there is a long and troubled history of directionless young men drawn to radicalism. The country suffers from a housing crisis nivea and chronic inflation, there have been recurring bouts of domestic terrorism, gold and the outskirts of riyadh and Jeddah are plagued by poverty, drugs, and street violence—problems that are not acknowledged to exist in the land of the Two. On top of this, saudi Arabia also seems to possess several of the attributes that have led to broader revolt in neighboring countries. There is a restive and well-organized Shia minority in saudi Arabias Eastern Province, who have engaged in a series of street protests since early 2011.
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(A few weeks after I spoke to him, al-Qahtani was put on trial for starting an unauthorized human rights organization and could face up to five years in prison.). The same might equally be said of saudi foreign policy. Mindful of the political awakening sweeping through the region, the king has shown a degree of support for uprisings elsewhere, from arming the rebels in Syria to reconciling with the new Islamist leadership in Egypt. Yet the only direct intervention by saudi Arabia opzegtermijn has come in neighboring Bahrain, where, in March 2011, a saudi-led force was sent to stave off a popular revolt and prop up the bahraini monarchy. Riyadh has also been using its influence in the gulf cooperation council, the alliance of autocratic Persian Gulf states, to pull together support for the beleaguered royal houses of Morocco and Jordan. The White house has remained silent. The us does more trade—overwhelmingly in oil and weapons—with saudi Arabia than any other country in the middle east, including Israel, and depends on close saudi cooperation in its counterterrorism efforts in Yemen. Indeed there are few signs that the saudi monarchy is even contemplating serious reforms. During a recent visit to several parts of the country, i spoke to academics, journalists, members of the Shia minority, and young bloggers, as well as clerics and government officials, and many were outspoken in criticizing the government; one journalist who had worked for official. But almost without exception, no one seemed to think that would happen anytime soon. I asked one prominent womens rights activist why more saudis werent agitating for a full written constitution—a moderate reform that could provide a more rigorous legal frame for continued Al saud rule and that was discussed publicly during a brief opening after the september.
Moreover, Abdullahs innovations, such as they were, would only happen in the future: the 2011 municipal elections, which took place a few days after the speech, were, as in the past, open to men only. Yet in a country whose only written charter asserts the koran as its basic law and in which women have few legal rights, let alone the right to vote, the announcement struck many as revolutionary. Liberal saudis and women activists called the decision historic, citing it as further proof that their nearly ninety-year-old monarch was a reformer. For their part, members of the government rushed to reassure the countrys powerful ulama —the religious leadership, which adheres to the puritanical branch of Hanbali Islam known in the west as Wahhabism—that the new women members of the Shura would not mix with the men. The king himself, in making the announcement, carefully noted that since the time of the Prophet, the muslim woman has had valid opinions and sound advice that should not be regarded as marginal. Even so, prominent saudi clerics suggested that the decree did not have religious backing, and two days later, as if to assert their continuing writ, face a court in Jeddah sentenced a woman to ten lashes for driving a car. Thus the kings revolutionary speech was also a deft maneuver to preserve the status quo. On the one hand, the monarch was appeasing one of the countrys most aggrieved constituencies—educated saudi women—and openly acknowledging that the countrys political institutions must evolve. On the other hand, he left the saudi system hardly more democratic than before, and by raising the ire of religious leaders, reinforced the divide between the two groups—liberals and Islamists—that pose the greatest threat to the monarchy. In effect, nothing has changed, mohammad bin Fahad al-Qahtani, an economics professor and human rights activist, told me in riyadh last may.
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On saudi Arabia: Its people, past, religion, fault Lines—and Future by karen Elliott house, knopf, 308.,.95, saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally by Thomas. Potomac, 307.,.95, politics and Society in saudi Arabia: The Crucial years of development, by sarah yizraeli, columbia university Press, 336.,.00. James Hill/Contact Press Images Portraits of King Abdullah when he was crown prince (left) and the late Prince sultan (center who was heir apparent when he died last year, on the outskirts of riyadh, september 2003. Its a funny place, jeddah. Nobody knows the half of what goes. —hilary mantel, eight Months on Ghazzah Street. On September 25, 2011, the aging ruler of saudi Arabia, king Abdullah, gave a remarkable speech to the majlis al-Shura, the formal advisory payot body to the saudi monarchy in riyadh. Beginning in 2013, the king said, women would be allowed to serve on the 150- member body; and beginning in 2015, they would also be permitted to vote and run for office in municipal council elections. To most outside observers, these moves were hardly worth noting. In 2011, popular revolts were toppling autocratic regimes across the middle east; even fellow monarchies like morocco and Jordan were amending or changing their constitutions to show they would be more accountable to the people. By contrast, the saudi kings speech conceded no new authority to the majlis al-Shura, an unelected body with limited powers of consultation only, and saudis have shown little interest in the largely symbolic local councils, only half of whose members are elected.