A Modernization Paradox: Saudi Arabia's Divided Society

By Clarke, Killian | Harvard International Review, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

A Modernization Paradox: Saudi Arabia's Divided Society


Clarke, Killian, Harvard International Review


There is something profoundly paradoxical about the new Al Faisaliah shopping center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A sprawling, three-story compound complete with air-conditioning and wireless internet, the bustling shopping mall is chock full of US fast-food chains and swanky clothing shops boasting everything from bras to basketball shoes. And yet, these hallmarks of economic modernity and Western-style mass consumerism are strikingly juxtaposed with the rigidly imposed cultural mores that have changed only marginally since the days when Riyadh was little more than a collection of dirt streets and mud houses.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Indeed, government enforcement of social mores has set Saudi Arabia apart as one the world's strictest and most traditional societies. The women roam from shop to shop clothed in full black abayas--garments that cover the entire body in order to disguise a woman's form--and scan shelves of children's clothes from behind face-covering niqabs. In the neighboring restaurants, unmarried men and women are not allowed to interact, and couples who choose to eat out are segregated by portable partitions. Women wishing to shop in the center or dine in these restaurants must rely on their male relatives to drive them, and they are not allowed to vote for the council members that advise the government on the development and establishment of these modern institutions. The enforcement of these and other rules, which generally mandate the segregation of men and women in all public arenas, falls under the responsibility of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government agency whose "morals police" monitors public areas to ensure that the rules are upheld to the highest standards of Islamic decency.

A Society of Paradoxes

This tension between modernity and tradition in Saudi Arabia is perhaps most palpable with regard to these laws toward women, but it is a paradox that has also manifested itself in virtually every branch of Saudi society. As Saudi Arabia develops, it has witnessed an ever-increasing number of contradictions between its modern economic institutions and rigid political and social systems. In a country whose economy is considerably dependent on the presence of foreign laborers, not to mention the innumerable Western professionals that contribute to the oil sector, there is still no freedom to worship any religion but Islam. Despite being one of the newest official voting members of the WTO, Saudi Arabia has still never had a national election--making it one of the world's ten least democratic states, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2007 Democracy Index. Part of a multi-decade effort to strengthen the private sector, the country now has the strongest stock market in the region, but the kingdom's would-be entrepreneurs are graduating from universities that are ranked among the lowest in the world. Barriers to foreign direct investment, which until recently had been insurmountably high, have been significantly lowered, and yet the state still refuses to grant tourist visas to Westerners, opening its borders only to Muslims that travel to Mecca on the Hajj.

The reality today is that Saudi Arabia is being pulled in two different directions. What is significant about this struggle, however, is the degree to which modernization has failed to permeate Saudi society beyond the economic sphere. Indeed, conventional wisdom among Western governments and institutions holds that economic prosperity will inevitably set developing nations on a road away from backwards political systems and toward pluralism, democracy, and liberalism. The Western view holds that with the development of a thriving middle class comes internal pressure to reform, and when this pressure becomes strong enough, incumbent regimes have no choice but to bow to the wishes of their people and liberalize their socio-political structures. Such beliefs have been the basis of much Western activity abroad in the last 50 years, with great hope being placed in institutions like the IMF and World Bank to bring about economic stability and eventual democratization movements.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Modernization Paradox: Saudi Arabia's Divided Society
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.