Saudi Arabia: The Coming Storm

Article excerpt

Saudi Arabia: The Coming Storm, by Peter W. Wilson and Douglas F. Graham. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994. xi + 268 pages. Bibl. to p. 276. Index to p. 288. About the Authors to p. 289. $54.95 cloth; $21.95 paper.

Reviewed by Fareed Mohamedi

Peter Wilson and Douglas Graham have written a fairly comprehensive book on Saudi Arabia. It broadly covers the important issues related to politics, foreign relations, military and security forces, the economy, and society. The book provides a good background on these issues, highlighting the historical evolution of government policies, institutions and problems. It differs from many of the standard country studies, since the authors are opinionated and do not shy away from offering advice or, at least, a forecast. They have also surveyed the literature on the kingdom, and some of their arguments are supported by specialized research. Both authors have worked in Saudi Arabia as journalists; the book reflects their firsthand knowledge of the kingdom.

The Coming Storm will not provide much new insight or information for the seasoned observer or researcher of the kingdom. Its overall analytical framework is well known to most people who have an understanding of the political and economic conditions of Saudi Arabia. The book is recommended for those unfamiliar with the kingdom or those who would like someone to tie together observations or news events related to Saudi Arabia into a coherent and understandable whole. It helps give shape to a country which appears to outside observers to be a mass of contradictions. It is also a quick read for those who want to catch up on some of the current issues facing the kingdom's rulers and its people.

Does the book live up to its title? Is there a "coming storm"? Wilson and Graham argue that although Saudi Arabia's ruling family, the AlSa'ud, have weathered many storms in the past, their current problems, most of their own making, appear to be so intractable that "Saudi Arabia is increasingly resembling the shah's Iran" (p. 268). The authors identify two major problems: First, the rulers have relied exclusively on religious legitimacy, rather than the broadening of the political system, to achieve political legitimacy. In fact, the trend during the reign of the last three rulers, Faysal, Khalid and Fahd, all sons of `Abd al-`Aziz bin Sa'ud, has been a greater centralization of power by the ruling family, at the same time as reactive concessions were being made to the hard-line religious conservatives. This process has had the unexpected result of strengthening the rulers' adversaries, at home and abroad.

The second major problem the ruling family faces is that it has created a welfare economy that the state's current oil revenues can no longer support. …