The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power

By Kéchichian, Joseph A. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power


Kéchichian, Joseph A., The Middle East Journal


SAUDIARABIA The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power, by As'ad AbuKhalil. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004. 213 pages. Notes to p. 232. Index to p. 248. $9.95 paper.

Neglected and reviled before September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia received begrudging attention in its aftermath, which presented new dilemmas for both the ruling family as well as ordinary Saudis. Simply stated, the kingdom lost a painstakingly earned reputation, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers who crashed three aircraft and were responsible for the death of over 3,000 individuals that day were Saudis. Riyadh could no longer shroud particular regional security and oil policies, even if most were conducted with American cooperation. Having been perceived by most Westerners and many Arabs as esoteric prior to 9/11, the Saudis subsequently faced outright wrath. Four years hence, a two-pronged focus dominated the discourse affecting it: a concentration on fanatical elements that presumably threatened world stability, and the necessity of an expurgation of evil that seemingly enveloped the Arabian Peninsula.

There has been precious little written that pretends to be objective since demonizing is certainly easier even if entirely wrong. This carping study is an exception because it presents a relatively balanced perspective even if some of its interpretations are arbitrary and egregious.

Unlike instant experts who are bewildered by Saudi Arabia, As'ad AbuKhalil, an erudite professor of political science at the California State University in Stanislaus, laments the kingdom's "bizarre form of government and fanatic ideology" (p. 19). He weaves a fantastic tale of paradoxes, concealment, and duplicity; and he candidly proposes that the Al Saud government "be overthrown" since it allegedly is "a brutal dictatorship wed to an ideology of religious fanaticism [that] should not be allowed to continue in this century" (p. 23). Although the text is peppered with acrimonious language, and even harsher assessments, most of the diatribes target Al Saud leaders. For AbuKhalil, as for most Arab nationalists, whatever the Al Saud accomplished in close to 80 years of rule was irrelevant, because more could and should have been attained.

This key issue merits attention because the Al Saud transformed tribal entities into a modernizing society even if the author insists that "among the general public, the House of Saud is despised and its members mocked and derided" (p. 48). There is little doubt that some Saudis hold such views, but they are by no means a majority. Many recognize the Al Saud's gargantuan efforts to unify competing tribes and establish long-lasting socio-economic institutions. Others remain indebted to visionary leaders who charted arduous courses to protect and preserve crown and country.

Still, AbuKhalil identifies two primary inconsistencies in the kingdom: an unhealthy relationship with the United States and serious problems with Wahhabiyyah. …

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