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

[ [ "Patience!" caricature taken from alwatan.com]

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 today. Within these discussions, predictions of what will happen next in Saudi Arabia vary, but all agree that the future course of events rests on what King Abdullah will do upon his return. In this context, two days ago, dubbed “Bright Wednesday” by Saudi media, marked a turning point in shaping the course that local movements for change will adopt.

Saudi Arabia woke up on Wednesday to the announcement of thirteen Royal Orders that preceded the much-anticipated return of Abdullah by a few hours. The King’s “gift to the nation” signaled a major push for the improvement of everyday life of all Saudis by pumping $35 billion into comprehensive development projects in every region and corner of the Kingdom. The financial boost will cut across sectors, from higher education and social security to real estate loans and immediate aid to the unemployed and the needy. Abdullah, nearing the end of his eighth decade, proved to his people that he has been listening to some of their demands despite his three-month absence from home.  In line with other kings before him, Abdullah has shown the world that rentierism and developmentalism in the Kingdom are still alive and well. His petro-regime, like those in the recent past, will continue to deal with calls for serious reforms and signs of criticism or opposition by yet again throwing money at growing internal challenges.


This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.

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

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Just discovered your website and love it!!

Great insite and fantastic writing!!

CanadianinRiyadh wrote on February 27, 2011 at 06:36 AM
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Isn't Saudia Arabia the only nation in the world that is named for its ruling family, as if it was their private domain?

I wonder what the name of the place will be in a couple of years?

eatbees wrote on February 27, 2011 at 04:32 PM

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