Because of its awesome oil wealth and the paranoid control of its ruling dynasty, books about Saudi Arabia tend to be either anodyne and airbrushed histories or cringing hagiographies of the Saudi royal family. As’ad Abukhalil’s The Battle for Saudi Arabia is certainly neither of these; he combines meticulous scholarship with passionate anger and has produced an excellent pocket history of the repressive regime that has ruled the country since 1932.
In this fascinating and accessible investigation of the history and power structure of Saudi Arabia, As’ad Abukhalil’s central thesis is that the props that have sustained the House of Saud for decades are crumbling. He anatomizes these props – unwavering support from the US, the ability to buy off a corrupt and quiescent Middle East media and, most importantly, the intimate intermeshing of the totalitarian ruling class and the extremist Sunni Wahhabi faith that is the state religion and, effectively, the law of the land. Abukhalil shows how pressure from violent fundamentalist militants and escalating external criticism of its harsh theocratic regime are producing deep fissures in the ruling family. He also asks pertinent questions about the Saudi Government’s appalling human rights record, its murky ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and its disastrous attempts to export its Wahhabi version of Islam to neighbouring countries.
This is a timely and thought-provoking examination of a secretive and closed society: the forces at work in Saudi Arabia – for good and ill – will be pivotal for the chances of peace in the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East and beyond.Peter Whittaker