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Rosie Bsheer


Of Sand or Soil: Genealogy and Tribal Belonging in Saudi Arabia

Nadav Samin, Of Sand or Soil: Genealogy and Tribal Belinging in Saudi Arabia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.  [This review was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Arab Studies Journal. For more information on the issue, or to subscribe to ASJ, click here.] Is Saudi Arabia a “tribal state,” and if so, what, exactly, is tribal about it? For some, scholars and laypersons alike, tribalism remains the driving force of the ...

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The Property Regime: Mecca and the Politics of Redevelopment in Saudi Arabia

[Outside Mecca's Grand Mosque, 10 June 2010. Image by the author.]

The 1990 Gulf War was a watershed in the history of the modern Middle East, one that altered the political economies of the region as well as state-society relations therein. In Saudi Arabia, the anti-regime popular mobilizations that had emerged during the war, coupled with the post-war global economic recession, shaped the ways in which the ruling Al Saud monarchy managed its monopoly on power and economic resources. On the one hand, the rulers adopted multi-pronged ...

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On Nostalgia and Material Culture in the Hijaz: An Interview with Sarah Al Abdali

[Refugee 2011]

Born in Jeddah, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali hails from a family with a rich Hijazi history and has grown up with a deep appreciation of the land, architecture, and heritage of the coastal region of Saudi Arabia, which is a recurring theme in her work. With the ever-changing physical landscape, Al Abdali feels alienated from the contemporary Hijazi city and seeks to share her imagined vision of a place that no longer exists, largely through public art. In this interview, Al ...

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Advocacy, Uprising, and Authoritarianism in Bahrain: An Interview With Ahmed Al-Haddad

[Ahmed al-Haddad.]

Almost two years after the beginning of the February 14 uprising, the Bahraini regime is still struggling to crush the ongoing political and civil rights movement, all the while working to rehabilitate Bahrain’s “tainted” image. Media blackouts, relentless surveillance and scare tactics, arbitrary detentions, anti-protester violence, and expensive Public Relations campaigns have become daily occurrences. Yet on 20 January 2013, Bahraini authorities met with Amnesty ...

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Saudi Revolutionaries: An Interview

[Eastern Province Revolution logo]

What is happening in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia? The Saudi media empire, coupled with its security apparatus, has to a large extent succeeded in preventing developments in Qatif from reaching the world. The Saudi regime has also resorted to a multipronged counter-revolutionary campaign in the last year in order to suppress the uprising there. Despite attempting to co-opt religious and political figures, exerting economic pressure on civilians, imposing blockades on ...

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ثوار السعودية: مقابلة مع منظمي صفحة ثوار المنطقة الشرقية

ما الذي يحدث في المنطقة الشرقية في الممكلة العربية السعودية؟ لقد نجحت الأمبراطورية الإعلامية التي تمتكلها المملكة، بالتعاون مع جهازها الأمني، في منع وصول أخبار التطورات في القطيف إلى العالم إلى حد بعيد. كما لجأ النظام السعودي إلى حملة مضادة للثورة متعددة الاتجاهات لقمع الانتفاضة في العام الماضي. وعلى الرغم من محاولات شراء شخصيات سياسية ودينية، وممارسة ضغوط اقتصادية على المدنيين، وفرض الحصار على القطيف وجوارها، واستعمال الذخيرة الحية لتفريق المتظاهرين، بقي الثوار في القطيف ...

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Political Imaginaries in Saudi Arabia: Revolutionaries without A Revolution

[Graffiti on a main street in Qatif. Image by Rosie Bsheer]

The contemporary Saudi-led counterrevolution, fierce as it has been throughout the Arab world, is perhaps most relentless inside the Kingdom’s own borders. US-trained and armed security forces have been dispatched more thoroughly throughout the country to thwart any potential signs of public gatherings or protests. In the last year alone, at least eight Saudi nationals have been killed for partaking in public protests. This is in addition to the unrelenting police brutality ...

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Is Bahrain Back to Normal?

[One of the Friday March 25th protests in Bahrain. Image from unknown archive]

“Your remarkable and unflinching efforts have protected the lives of innocent people, restored order and maintained security and stability across Bahrain,” Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa praised security forces on Friday March 25th for bringing life in Bahrain back to “normal.” As he thanked his dedicated forces for “creating conditions that are favorable for a national dialogue,” riot police were being deployed to put down some twenty-five small, peaceful protests ...

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Saudi Arabia's Week of Shame

[Image from]

Since King Abdullah returned to Riyadh last month, members of his ruling family have resorted to myriad political, economic, and personal measures to prevent public expressions of dissent against the Al Saud. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement warning that any act of public protest is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishable by law. The country’s senior ulema were quick to legitimize this criminalization of protest with religious justifications, reminding everyone ...

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Agency and Its Discontents: Between Al Saud's Paternalism and the Awakening of Saudi Youth


Public life has been calmer than usual in Saudi Arabia for the last month. Invigorated by the people’s revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt and anxious about the increasing violence in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, Saudis have been following the news obsessively, perhaps for the first time in a decade. Salon talk has also shifted to serious discussions of the less than ideal role the Saudi government has played in the historic regional developments we are witnessing ...

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Celebrations Shake Saudi Capital

[Image from unknown archive]

Tonight, We Are All Egyptian. For the first time in decades, Arabs the world over will unite in celebration, not in protest against this imperial war or the next. We will dwell in victory, not in the shadows of yesteryear’s defeats. We will pontificate the future and its many possibilities, not arguments against the mere idea of “what went wrong.” For some time to come, we will see Egyptians for the heroes that they are, and ignore that their laborers will continue to ...

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Saudi Arabia's Silent Protests

[Saudis protesting their overdue land grants at Shaqra' Municipality. Image taken from]

Riyadh feels a little less stale since the Tunisian people toppled their dictator-president Zine El Abidine Bin Ali on 15 January 2011. In cafes, restaurants, and salons (majalis), friends and colleagues greet me with a smug smile, congratulations, and a ‘u’balna kulna (may we all be next). On my daily afternoon walks, I overhear Saudis of all ages and walks of life analyzing the events that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian regime. Everywhere I go, people are ...

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It’s Not The Morality Police, Stupid

[Al Hai'a Headquarters in Mecca: Image From]

It is becoming increasingly more common to blame Saudi Arabia’s social, economic, and political ills solely on Wahabiyya and its official enforcers, the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as al hai’a, al mutawa’a, or simply the morality police. In Washington D.C., London, Beirut, Damascus, or Riyadh, we learn that Saudi Arabia is stuck in the Dark Ages because of the conservatism and “backwardness” of Wahabiyya. That is, until ...

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Choking Mecca in the Name of Beauty — and Development (Part 2)

[Open quarters at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, across from Jabal Shamiyya Construction project. Image from author's archive]

Mecca During the Hajj  As the annual hajj draws to a close, millions of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca celebrate the four-day Eid al Adha together ritually, festively, and with a jubilant spirit of giving. They will pray, eat, and spend time with loved ones. Those who can afford it will give alms to the less fortunate. Most will resist the temptations of sleep in order to enjoy every remaining hour they have in the holiest of all Muslim places. Thousands of medical doctors ...

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Choking Mecca in the Name of Beauty--and Development (Part I)

[Abraj Al Bait Towers from inside the Grand Mosque. Image from author's archive]

In the last decade, Mecca, Islam’s birthplace, has been the target of some of the world’s largest commercial development schemes. Over one hundred buildings are under construction around the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Ḥarām) and will soon replace the historical, architectural and socioeconomic landscape of this rapidly developing city. Whole neighborhoods have been completely gutted out, their residents displaced to the outskirts of Mecca and other neighboring cities.[i] The ...

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Poverty in the Oil Kingdom: An Introduction

[King Abdullah during a tour of the poor neighborhoods of Al Shmeisi area in Riyadh, 2002. Image from]

When Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz went to see one of Riyadh’s many poor neighborhoods in November 2002, pundits and lay people alike heralded the landmark visit as the beginning of the end of poverty in Saudi Arabia. After all, it was the first-and only- such visit by a high-ranking member of the Saudi ruling family, let alone a Saudi Crown Prince who also happened to be one of the richest men in the world. At the time, the Crown Prince said he wanted to visualize ...

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Kafala Politics and Domestic Labor in Saudi Arabia

[Image from Al-Jazeera Online]

As we prepare to land at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, I grudgingly wear my abaya and wrap the headscarf around my neck. A few Saudi men in jeans and t-shirts rush to the bathrooms and change into their long, white thobes. When we touch down, I call my wakil, a male agent who has to be physically present in lieu of my male guardian to “collect me.” The word in Arabic is yistilimni. I ask him to meet me at the immigration counter. A few meters outside the door ...

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Personal Posts

behind the sun

[image from google maps]

follow me to the land where the sun always shines and homes bleed into each other stars of dust and lust cityscapes of pain and manicured skylines that dance to the rhythm of my fingertips over your skin calloused with yearnings for a past that stalks you for a past that keeps you its prisoner of shame come look and you will find me waiting behind the sun where hope and lust are retired into an afterlife of what ifs where broken souls are left ...

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Rosie Bsheer

Rosie Bsheer is Assistant Professor of History at Yale University and Co-Editor of Jadaliyya Ezine.