State of Nature: The Politics of Water in the Making of Saudi Arabia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Oil and the great wealth it generated over the twentieth century profoundly shaped Saudi Arabia's political system. Oil revenues allowed the Al Saud, the kingdom's ruling family, to consolidate their grip on power, protect themselves from domestic political challenges, and build a modern state in the Arabian Peninsula. That Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most powerful petro-states, a state whose stability and authority depends on the abundance of a single natural resource, is well known. But the importance of the environment to politics and power in Saudi Arabia transcends oil. Equally important to the making of modern Saudi Arabia was water, a resource as scarce in Arabia as oil was abundant. While oil wealth enabled the consolidation of Saudi political authority, the use of that wealth to conquer, control, and develop water also profoundly shaped politics and the political order. This chapter examines Saudi Arabia's efforts to master its scarce water resources, the role that oil and the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) played in those efforts, and the impact of these endeavors on environmental politics and power. It was largely through these efforts that the Saudi state and its autocratic character were forged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWater on Sand
Subtitle of host publicationEnvironmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199979608
ISBN (Print)9780199768677
StatePublished - Jan 24 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • 'Abd Al-'Aziz Ibn Saud
  • Aramco
  • Development
  • Environmental expertise
  • Karl twitchell
  • Oil
  • Redistributive politics
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United States
  • Water


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