Mark Huband and I edited The Kingdom: Saudi Arabia and the Challenge of the Twenty First Century, a book of essays and journalism on Saudi Arabia. It also features an essay I wrote on the borders of Saudi Arabia. It is published by Columbia University Press in the states and Hurst & Co. in the UK.
Entries in Saudi Arabia (12)
A review of Al-Rasheed, Madawi. (2007) Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. First published by SaudiDebate.
Last month the Governor of the Mecca region, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, congratulated all involved for the smoothing running of this year’s hajj. Thankfully, there was no repetition of last year’s tragedy, when 364 people were killed in a huge crush at the stoning ceremony, in part because of an extension to the Jamarat bridge that alleviated the flow of people. However, the invitation of Ahmedinejad to perform hajj – a hand extended by King Abdullah – reminds one that such a central event in Islam is never free of controversy.
It is difficult to draw lines in the desert. The wind tends to quickly cover them up with sand, and the surface is as before. The problem is exacerbated if one has to draw lines around a nation bordered by seven other countries. If that wasn't difficult enough, it is especially hard to draw such lines when you have three competing ideas of where the line should be. Nation states like clear lines between organised sovereignties, separating out the vivid blocks of colour on our maps. Such an understanding is not shared by nomadic peoples, whose concept of territorial ownership can often be durational and change with the seasons. Nor is such an understanding shared by Islamic movements that see only one border: that between Islam and the non-believers. Suffice to say, Saudi Arabia has always had a problem with lines.
Certain figures take hold of the public imagination; they become scapegoats for all society’s ills. In the England of the 1990′s, single mothers fulfilled this function. Street violence? That will be the lack of a father figure for today’s youth. The NHS unable to cope? Blame it on all those pregnancies. Today, the single mother of international relations is Wahhabi Islam.
Today, the spectacle of Iraqis dancing in the shadow left by the fall of the statue of Saddam seems like a distant memory: Iraq is in total chaos, and 60,000 Iraqis are forced by the continuing violence to leave their home every month. The UNHCR estimates that as of September 2007, there are now four million displaced Iraqis around the world.
Saudi Arabia is getting younger. In 2004, one out of every two Saudis was less then fifteen years old. That means a lot of new jobs are going to need to be created by the time these kids are out of school.
The ‘facts on the ground' do not always have a direct bearing on the policies that emerge in response to what is really happening. This is no more true than in today's Iraq - and in the policy responses that are the fallout for the Middle East of what is taking place in Iraq. Policy - in the form of the arguments emerging from Washington as well as from among some of those states to which it remains allied in the region - is not driven by the reality of a ‘Sunni-Shia' split in Iraq; instead, writes Joshua Craze, the policy of seeking the existence of a Sunni-Shia split is now creating the circumstances in which such a split might become a reality. The US Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that a ‘cold war' between Sunni and Shia is in the offing, was not based on the view that there is a cold war - but on the need to create the impression that such a war exists. And to what end is all this taking place? Contending with Iran is clearly at its heart - with the focus being on holding Iran responsible for the situation in Iraq - despite the violence in Baghdad being committed by Sunni insurgents, and there being no definitive evidence that this ‘cold war' - or a ‘hot' equivalent - is really taking place.
Later this month George Bush, stumbling into the last year of his presidency, with his allies deserting him in droves, will make a grand tour of the Middle East. Along the way, he will make his first visit to a country that has remained steadfastly loyal to the American government, muted criticisms of American actions in Iraq and Israeli actions in Lebanon aside: Saudi Arabia.
Another month, another series of proposals on how to bring democracy to Saudi Arabia. Recent efforts include the Centre for Contemporary Conflict, which recommends developing private enterprise, and the Washington Quarterly, which argues for engaging with the autocrats. Many such proposals import a model of the state based on the Western experience, and lack an appreciation of just how different other states can be.
This year sees two notable anniversaries. It is the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, and the newspapers are full of commentators(1) trying to work out the relationship between Wahhabism, Al Qaeda and the House of Saud. Meanwhile, in July of this year, a conference(2) of Arab writers gathered in Yemen’s capital Sana’a to mark a little noticed event – the 600th anniversary of Ibn Khaldun’s (1332-1406) death.
The recent Saudi-China oil agreement sent shock waves through an America already reconsidering its relationship to the Kingdom.