Seeking a "Social Contract" for Saudi Arabia

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For most of its history, the royal family of Saudi Arabia has maintained public order by exercising absolute, at times brutal, control over the people of the country. The House of Saud has tolerated neither resistance nor the questioning of its authority. But in the mayhem of 2003, with war to the north, terrorist car bombings in the capital of Riyadh and running gun battles in Mecca and Medina, something strange is happening in the oil monarchy. In the spring and summer, several bold groups of Saudi Arabian citizens pressed the royal family to rescue the country from the forces crippling it and open up to political reform. This time, Saudi rulers appear to be listening to, and even encouraging, dialogue. Has the age of reform dawned at long last in Saudi Arabia? There are reasons for optimism. Crown Prince Abdallah's highly publicized embrace of the various reform groups suggests that, if nothing else, talking about reform has become a legitimate element of public life. Editorial pages of Saudi Arabian newspapers openly call for greater freedoms and debate possible ways to ameliorate long-standing problems. The new reformers, by aligning themselves with the regime, have shrewdly maneuvered the royal family into a stance from which they cannot easily back down. With the requisite endurance, the reformers may ultimately accomplish their task, but for now, the reasons for skepticism are abundant and powerful. There are significant questions about the strength of the social base supporting the cause of the moderates. Reactionary forces are on the rise, and power struggles among the royal family continue to stymie forward motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-48
Number of pages7
JournalMiddle East Report
Issue number228
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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