Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia Paperback – 5 Oct 2010
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"Beautifully written and thought-provoking ... Robert Lacey has written a highly accomplished book which should go into the bags of anyone who has to travel to the kingdom" (Literary Review)
"Compelling ... [I] know of no book that captures so convincingly the intimate connection between the kingdom and the rise of al-Qaeda and its jihadist ideology...What distinguishes Mr Lacey's account is his use of Saudi voices - many of them, even in this most reticent of cultures, on the record - to anatomise a deeply rooted culture of intolerance" (Economist)
"Incisive ... The real triumph of this book ... is the way it peels away the layers of mystery that shroud a civil society of which we have almost no knowledge" (Sunday Times) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
The complex story of what's been happening within Saudi Arabia - while the West wasn't looking --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
How does a Royal Kingdom of such overt wealth and power encompass Mecca , the home of the Muslem faith, and sustain such fierce religious adherence.
The skills and wisdom with which the successive kings worked with and listened carefully to the powerful religious leaders is dissected - Robert Lacey certainly seems to have developed exceptional access to the leading players. The kings are elected in an unexpectedly democratic manner from the various strands of nobility and come with different strengths. As the Saudi proverb goes:
If you did not go hungry in the reign of King Abdul Aziz, you would never go hungry (This is the king who conquered surrounding kingdoms to create the vast Saudi Arabia as recently as 1932)
If you did not have fun in the reign of Kin Saud, you would never have fun
If you did not go to prison in the reign of King Faisal, you would never go to prison
If you did not make money in the reign of King Khaled, you would never make money
If you did not go bankrupt in the reign of King Fahd.....
That is about as far as it goes although, for my money, King Abdullah, the present king comes out the shrewdest.
Starting in 1977, Islam fundamentalism, organised by Juhayman, rose against the Saudi royal family: "The Al-Saud had exploited religion as a means to guarantee their worldly interests, putting an end to Jihad , paying allegiance to the Christians (America) and bringing evil and corruption upon the muslims". The ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood were to re-establish the order of Allah. But the rhetoric dealt in change -promoting concepts like social justice, anti colonialism and the equal distribution of wealth. Politically they were prepared to challenge the establishment in a style that was unthinkable to mainstream Wahhabis (religious leaders), who were reflexively deferential to the House of Saud.
The Muslim Brothers were stamped on firmly by the Saudi state. Unlike Osama Bin Laden, who was financed and supported by the Saudi's in his fight first against the Soviet infidels in neighbouring muslim Aghanistan, and then in bringing his trained fighters to resist Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and threat to Saudi Arabia itself. But Osama bin Laden turned against the royal family, enraged by the Saudi cooption of America onto Saudi territory to help invade Iraq. The story of Osama bin Laden's bombing of the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassies and the explanation of why the majority of the 9/11 bombers were disaffected Saudis is related in a series of interviews with those involved on all sides.
The position of women in Saudi society, the power of the fundamentalist clerics, the relations with the USA, the importance and influence of the tremendous oil wealth and the tensions within the society are all examined.
This thoughtful and enlightening book must be on anybody's reading list if they are perplexed and intrigued by the position of one of the world's most powerful religious and economic states.
the luxury they live in is astounding.The control through fear of upsetting the wrong member of the family can be brutal
Lacey describes Saudi Arabia through a series of loosely linked journalistic vignettes and case studies (" think tanks and foreign affairs societies can offer statistics and analyses aplenty," he observes). He introduces us to terrorists, holy men, secret policemen, reformers both male and female, a former Guantanamo inmate, a rape victim (who suffers more perhaps in the social aftermath than in the crime itself) and even princes and kings, both corrupt and benign. Lacey has penetrated deep into the psyche of the Kingdom, and he takes us with him. His overall tone is respectful and even empathic. This makes his picture all the more unsettling.
The central strand of Lacey's episodic narrative is the tight alliance of convenience between the Al Saud and the Wahhabi clerisy (named after the eighteenth century cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab). The terms were straightforward: in return for supporting the dynasty's temporal rule (and disportionate access to the nation's wealth), the Wahhabis would be given supreme authority in matters spiritual, a sphere to which they gave a broad and in some regards an arguably un-Islamic definition. This deal was first struck at the formation of the first Kingdom in 1774 and was reasserted on the formation of the modern state in 1932 by King Abdul Aziz. It was turbo-charged in 1979 following the invasion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by fundamentalist terrorists led by Juhayman Al-Otaybi. The ruling family's response to this atrocity - following the bloody recapture of the Mosque, with which Lacey chooses to begin his story, riveting the reader's attention from the outset- was to attempt to defang the radicals by outmatching them at their own game.
Under King Khalid's appeasement policy, the Wahhabis and their fearsome agents the Mutawwa (the notorious Religious Police) were given a free hand. The result was a sustained campaign against innovations ("bidah"), increased oppression of women, suppression of the Shia minority which is especially prominent in the oil rich Eastern Province, and of anyone showing even the most incipient signs of liberal thinking or secularism (secularism became a synonym for apostasy, for which the penalty is death and accusations of secularism became the common weapon of a spiteful and well-populated class of petty informers). Education became principally religious in nature, heavily skewed to rote learning of the Koran and other texts, virtually guaranteeing the emergence of a radicalized (not to mention sexually frustrated) generation ill-equipped to play any functional role in a modern economy. The philosophy was exported too, through generous grants to madrassas, mosques and other Moslem causes throughout the world. All this took place while the government was overtly and covertly collaborating with the USA on its foreign policy agenda (the Contras, Afghanistan, the First Gulf War etc). In Saudi Arabia, as in other Islamic nations, there was widespread glee when a predominantly Saudi squad of terrorists took down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Somewhat belatedly, the current King Abdullah, who succeeded in2005 after almost a decade as Crown Prince, started to reverse some of these trends. He did so partly in line with his longstanding beliefs and partly in response to specific provocations. He imposed restrictions on the clerics and Mutawwa, he introduced educational reform, notably including education for girls, he moved towards greater inclusiveness for the Shia, greater toleration for (mild) dissidents and increased transparency in government. Externally, he promoted inter-faith understanding and led progressive, though unfortunately stillborn, Arab initiatives towards peace in Palestine. He also moved to diversify Saudi Arabia's foreign policy away from dependence on the USA. Many would argue that all this is too little, too late. However, the de Tocquevillian dilemma he faces is well illustrated by the results of his small step toward democratic representation. As his predecessor, King Fahd, had wryly predicted, the victors were those who were organized - the religious extremists. A dangerous moment indeed. This initiative has been quietly allowed to go dark. The survival of the regime depends perhaps on the awareness among "ordinary" Saudis that their lifestyles are at risk if it fails.
Lacey ends his book quite touchingly with the 86 year old, ailing king praying by the seashore. He does not venture a prognosis for the Kingdom. The reader is left to speculate. Will the future bring more of the same, a perpetuation of the balancing act? Will Saudi Arabia go like Iran, transforming relatively non-violently from monarchial autocracy to theocratic authoritarianism? Or will it collapse like Iraq into violent anarchy? Will the next king - surely from a new generation - make it or break it? A peaceful transition to a Western-style democracy seems to be the least likely of outcomes. If ever a book made the case for "Arab Exceptionalism, " this is it.
An excellent read, and well recommended for anyone who wants to understand the country, its Islamic traditions, and its relationship with the US.
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