The most informed voices on Saudi politics are quite often those working there over a long-term period, usually in business of some sort.* When there in that capacity, you are part of the system, and Saudis will interact and engage with you, tell you things etc, in a way that won’t happen with journalists or academics there for a 1 or 2 week visit.
For that reason, I place a very high premium on the opinions of expats in Saudi Arabia for work and mid-level/ rising Saudi managers. A Western reader with elite Arabic skills and who has spent several years in Riyadh for business sent me the below comment after reading my August interview with Greg Gause.
I thought it was too insightful not to share with readers and he graciously allows me to post for RWA readers. Highlights by me:
*Which is also why I consider this book, by an academic, who first worked in Saudi for business, one of the very best books I’ve read on Saudi politics to date.
4 thoughts on “Wise words on Saudi Arabia from an informed reader”
Please accept my comments as I have been intimately involved with Saudi Arabia since 1979 when I went to the Dept. of Commerce Saudi desk. The really key issues that must be faced are 2 fold: first, the long term, deep structural changes in global energy production that likely will change the boom-bust hydrocarbon sector since the 1974 oil embargo and the birth of OPIC. Saudi Arabia may never again see $100 a barrel prices. The economic/social consequences of that are beyond anyone’s ability to predict. They are clearly Not good.
Second is the socio-political impact of what we can characterize as the transition of the Saudi public from Subjects to Citizens. Subjects have no rights. Citizens surely do. One cannot expand privatization of the public sector, expose/educate hundreds of thousands of youth in free global environments, and empower Citizens while maintaining an absolute monarchy. Managing the Saudi special leadership role in Islam is hard enough. But the economic challenges and the socio-political transformation that is underway are much more difficult to predict. But in any analysis, it is not clear how the Saudis will manage these challenges given the complex circumstances that have impact on the society and the governing system.
Thanks Charles for sharing your perspective who has been covering the country for such a long period. I do think it’s going to be a tough challenge, but I think it’s important to put Saudi’s problems in perspective. Tough, yes. But in the context of the broader Middle East, very few countries are in “good” positions. I think that, in balance, they are in a better position, than almost any other major Arab country. Certainly I’d rather be the King of Saudi than the President of Egypt or Tunisia. Wouldn’t you?
Any thoughts on this WSJ article on Saudi Arabia?
It’s a good article my only issue with is that I think it falls to some extent into the Western tendency to consider the individual rulers in the drivers seat, as if it’s all about them, and not the System. In my view, what’s happening in Saudi, would basically be happening, who ever was in charge. All of the new reforms have been attempted in some form for years, so I don’t see the kind of “tug of war” between “pro-reform” versus “anti-reform” that seems to be a dominant narrative in the media.