I came across an interesting blog post that reports on the issue of Saudi Identity. It provides a quick gloss of Saudi history in its telling of the problems involved in forging a national Saudi identity. Worth reading.

The Fifth Border, Securing a National Identity in Saudi Arabia
Institut d’études politiques de Paris

This paper was prepared for “Political Sociology of the Contemporary Arab State,” taught by Professor Stéphane LACROIX of the Paris School of International Affairs


By: Faisal Abdullah Abulhassan


The name “Saudi Arabia” accurately describes the nation’s reigning dynasty and geographic location, but falls short of properly create a correct image of the Saudi people. This is due to the lack of a national identity in the Kingdom amongst its homogeneous population. A union of vastly different regions and peoples, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has thus far come to naught in securing its fifth border – the identity of its citizens. In a world where conflict is no longer limited to the land, sea and sky the formulation of an enduring “Saudi” national identity is essential to the stability, continuity and unity of the Saudi State. By reviewing the historical composition and diverse populations that make up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this essay seeks to highlight the bonds that have held the various peoples that are Saudis together. It also seeks to analyse the bonds that have failed. While the Kingdom’s four natural borders in the north, south, east and west are thoroughly protected militarily; it is increasingly vulnerable to internal conflict over who exactly is “Saudi,” as well as to the creation of fifth columns. Therefore, this essay argues it is the Royal Family institutionalised that holds the key to creating, strengthening, and stabilising a national identity for the Saudi people.

January:31:2013 - 09:39 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
2 Responses to “Assessing Saudi “Identity””
  1. 1
    Jerry M Said:
    January:31:2013 - 11:21 

    It is difficult to craft a distinct nationality when the attributes that normally distinguish a nation are shared by all your neighbors (ie: language, religion, tribal structure). Perhaps loyalty to the royal family is a uniting factor. (That is something I don’t understand peronally but I have British friends who feel affection for the queen and the royal family.)

  2. 2
    Barkley Rosser Said:
    January:31:2013 - 13:56 

    I have not read the paper, but aside from the obvious tribal diversity and persistence of tribal identities, a problem in many nations, there are some other differences. Probably the mosts significant heterogeneous element is the Shi’a, mostly in the Eastern Province, particularly in the large oases, who have long been discriminated against and continue to be. A curious result of that is that they are predominant in the upper reaches of ARAMCO, since even though that is now owned by the Saudi government, it was indeed originally a consortium subsidiary of four US oil majors. They did not discriminate on religion, and the Shi’a were numerious in that oil producing region. There is a parallel oddity in Iran, where there are a lot of Arab Sunnis in their main oil-producing region.

    Otherwise one finds some mild ethno-cultural variations near the borders. The people in Asir province in the southwest, where a disproportionate number of the participants in 9/11 came from, are much closer to the Yemenis ethnically and culturally. All of them consider themselves to be the “pure” Arabs, looking down their noses from their mountain (and farming) hideouts on the mixed race peoples in the deserts. There are other such variations.

    Offhand, I would say that the unity of the nation is given by the religious ideology of the Sa’ud family, dating back to their alliance with the Wah’hab, later called “Sheik,” family from 1740, in which they decided that spreading adherence to the strictest of the Sunni Shari’as was there thing, the Hanbali code. This is the essence of “Wah’habism,” and adherence to that doctrine is probably as close as there is to being a national unifier beyond the royal family itself and their more recent control of the Holy cities of Mecca and Madinah.

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