One will not find in this anthology an integrated overview of contemporary Saudi Arabia, let alone a coherent sense of what kind of transition is taking place there. The contributors represent the best of Saudi observers, but the editors fail to synthesize their analyses, several of which are standalone gems. One theme that emerges throughout is that since the kingdom’s founding, its rulers have often had a modernizing agenda separate from and sometimes threatening to the Wahhabi religious establishment, especially with respect to the legal system and education. Although disgruntled, the clerics have always buttressed the House of Saud’s claims to legitimacy. None of the chapters directly addresses the origins or trajectory of that agenda, but they do provide fascinating commentaries on a number of critical subjects: the relationship between Wahhabism and Salafism; the state’s role in encouraging, then throttling, the Islamist sahwa (awakening) inspired in the 1960s by the Muslim Brotherhood; and the debate between “classical” and “global” jihadists.
Get the latest book reviews delivered right to your inbox.