On Saudi Arabia | Karen Elliott House

Summary of: On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines–and Future
By: Karen Elliott House


On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines–and Future, by Karen Elliott House, takes us on an insightful journey into the inner workings of this enigmatic nation. The book uncovers the complex structures of power, highlighting the role of religion, social structure, and oil wealth in maintaining the monarchy’s rule. Delving into aspects such as Saudi Arabian lifestyle and religious practices, the book also explores the growing influence of technology and social media, and its impact on the country’s desire for change. The role of women in society, youth rebellion and the education system are discussed, alongside the impending economic challenges the country faces due to its heavy reliance on oil and foreign labor. The introduction and conclusion below will encapsulate the key highlights and overarching message of this book summary.

Absolute Power in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, a nation ruled by the royalty, gives absolute power to the King who nominates top religious leaders, appoints judges and parliament members. The regions of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the princes with blood ties to the king, has a pristine public image with the help of the king’s relatives who are in charge of media outlets. The king also ensures that social and civic organizations are against any political protests which could threaten the monarchy. The vast wealth of the royals comes from the nation’s primary driver of the economy, petrol oil. However, the king’s power over the people is mainly due to religious influence through Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam. Since the royal family is considered to be Allah’s representatives on earth, this absolute power arrangement guarantees that the newly formed monarchy would be followed with unquestioning loyalty.

The Formality of Muslim Prayers in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim prayers (salat) are a formal ritual that people must perform five times a day, and there is only one proper way to perform them. The prayer ritual ends with prostrations towards Mecca, a submissive gesture to Allah’s will. Despite this uniformity in prayer celebration, disagreements exist within the nation’s religious leadership concerning men and women’s social interactions. Nonetheless, the 2009 dispute about men and women mixing at the kingdom’s new universities led to the head of the vice police order his officers to stop interfering with public spaces’ socialization. The public dispute saw Wahhabi Islam rules as unwavering and absolute start to fall.

Isolation and Change in Saudi Arabia

The harsh desert conditions of the Saudi Arabian peninsula have contributed to a society that is isolated and focused on survival. The monarchy enforces cultural and religious barriers that discourage social gatherings but modern technology, such as social media, is beginning to unite Saudi Arabians and boost their criticism of government neglect.

Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Despite powerful female figures in Islamic history, Saudi Arabian women are still fighting for recognition outside the home. The country has a societal framework that restricts women’s movement and denies them the right to drive, with male relatives exerting control over their daily lives. However, the Arab Spring in 2011 saw many Saudi women participate in organized protests, including “drive-ins,” which led to King Abdullah making symbolic gestures towards women’s rights. In 2011, he announced that women could vote in the 2015 parliament elections, and since 2013, women have been eligible for appointment to the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, which proposes new laws. Nevertheless, these reforms were more symbolic than substantial, as political bodies in the country held little power. The struggle for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia continues.

Saudi Arabia’s Youthful Rebellion

Saudi Arabia’s young generation rebels against traditional values and authoritarian rule. The nation’s high youth population has led to a significant momentous challenge for parents and religious establishments. The rebellion is expressed in different forms, including religious extremism, vandalism, wearing Western clothes, and creating thought-provoking films. These rebellious acts have put enormous pressure on the government to embrace reform. One example includes Feras Bugnah, who made the powerful short film, “We Are Screwed,” which depicted the deplorable living conditions of poor neighborhoods in Riyadh. The film went viral with nearly a million views in Saudi Arabia alone and resulted in the arrest and subsequent release of Bugnah after 15 days of intense public pressure and outcry on social media. The rebellion’s long-term impact on the country and its people remains to be seen as it could either lead to positive reforms or continued suppression.

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