Toby Keith does Saudi Arabia

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I can’t say I was expecting to read an article today about a Toby Keith concert in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The more I think about it, however, it’s a clever idea from a Saudi government PR perspective in terms of subtly “liberalizing” the population in ways that are culturally acceptable.  Of course, as long as any pitfalls are avoided (more on that below).

And the choice of a country singer such as Toby Keith isn’t surprising. In fact it’s quite clever.

One thing that always struck me in traveling around the Saudi provinces, was how in many core ways their culture isn’t that much different from American culture outside of big Big State urban area.

For example, both are:

  • Rural in nature
  • Emphasis on importance of tradition and honor – resistant to latest urban fads
  • Preference for pick-up trucks
  • Tied to the land
  • More slower, lower
  • Rural-gun/hunting culture
  • Do your own thing collectively – less individualistic

And remember, 40 years ago, 99% of Saudis were living in the countryside/desert.  So even for city dwellers today, culturally in many ways, it’s still rural in nature.

Potential Pitfall in this Concert? 

Continue reading “Toby Keith does Saudi Arabia”

15 Middle East-related articles I read this week

As a new feature, every week or so I will be posting links to the most interesting or newsworthy articles on the Middle East that I read during this period.

Here are 15 or so from this past week. All worth reading, though some I disagree with and explain why:


(1)  Egypt and the End of the Secular Middle East

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This is a thoughtful article. However, it exaggerates the extent to which Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s was “Secular” by Western standards today.

More importantly, it overlooks the extent to which that somewhat “secular” period of Egyptian history was a deviation from the norm of overall strong religious conservatism by the vast majority of Egypt’s population over the course of history.

The article assumes that the Nasser period with it’s mild secularism was the starting point of Egyptian history.  In fact it was a momentary departure from the overall norm of strong religious conservatism by 90+ % of the population.

What has happened since the 1970s is an entirely predictable return to that non-Secular norm. It was basically inevitable once the Nasserist industrial project failed.

(2)  The Professor and the Jihadi

A truly excellent in-depth look at the French situation with radical Islam, via a profile of the distinguished scholar Gilles Keppel.

Sadly, I believe this is true:

Continue reading “15 Middle East-related articles I read this week”

Making Jordan Great Again?


Today I read this  scathing attack on Jordanian immigration policy by a leading Jordanian journalist.  In a nutshell, he rips what he considers an over reliance on foreign workers at the expensive of hiring Jordanians.

The Key Question this article raises:  what does this say about the long-term fate of global immigration paradigms if Jordan – a relatively poor country – is having this kind of problem in 2017?

The article is in Arabic – here is my translation of the key points:  Continue reading “Making Jordan Great Again?”

Wise words on Saudi Arabia from an informed reader

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.

MSA “Base” to competence in Algeria part III: Talking about family, hobbies, and buying things in stores

See previous post for more on this topic.

Key point:

North African Dialects are not as  incomprehensibly “different” as they are often made out to be by many in the Arabic studies field.

If you have built up a strong MSA base, and have spent a decent amount of time speaking in any Dialect (250+ hours), you are in a good position to approach the differences rationally and “convert” your skills in a reasonably short amount of time (one month or less).

Three transcripts from Algeria.

Describing One’s Family


Continue reading “MSA “Base” to competence in Algeria part III: Talking about family, hobbies, and buying things in stores”

Catching up with Greg Gause on Saudi Arabia, Arabic and Texas A&M

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F. Gregory Gause III is the head of the International Affairs Department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University and a world-renowned expert on Saudi politics. I caught up with Professor Gause recently in Rehoboth Beach. Some questions of interest to Real World Arabic readers that I asked my old friend and fellow Delaware native:

In your recent Foreign Affairs article you challenged a popular policy notion that the Saudi government can somehow control or stop Global Salafism. You argued that they lost control decades ago “if they ever really had it.” I happen to agree with you 100%. At the biggest picture counter-terrorism policy level, what does this mean in dealing with this new spread of populist-ISISism?

I think it means two things, one Saudi-centric and one having to do with, if you will, the “targets” of salafi proselytization, whether that be by Saudi-supported institutions or by violent jihadists like ISIS.

Continue reading “Catching up with Greg Gause on Saudi Arabia, Arabic and Texas A&M”