The Son King: Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia
By Madawi al-Rasheed
Hurst, 2020, 416 pp.
This book heralds the emergence of an organized political opposition in the growing Saudi Arabian diaspora. An anthropologist and activist based in London, al-Rasheed sketches a somewhat diffident revisionist history of the creation of Saudi Arabia—the only country in the world named after its ruling family. She offers a far more astringent appraisal, however, of what she calls “apostles and apologists” in the West, those leaders and public figures who have naively seen the potential for reform with the arrival of each new Saudi king. She saves her bitterest critique for the current Saudi government, calling it “one of the most secretive and treacherous regimes in the Arab world” and accusing the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of “relentless repression.” Al-Rasheed’s recounting of the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is familiar, but she places it in a novel and intriguing context: his killing by Saudi agents in Istanbul both reflected and further encouraged political activism among new communities of Saudi exiles in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. It’s not yet clear if this disparate collection of Islamists, feminists, democrats, members of disaffected tribes, and other dissidents will actually find common cause outside the kingdom. But the diaspora’s growth is a story worth following, and al-Rasheed provides a serviceable introduction.