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Brezhnev in the Hejaz?

Bruce Reidl makes the case for the al-Saud as a decaying gerontocracy:

Brezhnev in the Hejaz

….The biggest unknown is how the Kingdom’s youth will act. They have watched the drama in Tahrir Square, Benghazi, Sanaa and Dara’a on Al Jazeera just like everyone else. And the Kingdom has the same demographics as its Arab brothers: a large youth bulge that is chasing too few jobs. With 80 percent of Saudis under thirty years of age and 47 percent under eighteen, unemployment is officially at 10 percent but could be as high as 25 percent (only men are counted since few women seek jobs outside the home). The underemployed young Saudi man may have more money in his pocket than his Egyptian counterpart, but he too is frustrated by a system that is completely opaque and closed to the nonelite.

While the Kingdom can and does appease many of their demands-Abdullah announced over $100 billion in new bonuses, mosque building and other payoffs-it offers them little or nothing in the way of political change. Absolute monarchies are not usually accommodating to transparency and devolution of authority; by definition absolutists do not compromise with nonroyals.

….In fact the Hejaz, with its young, urbane, religiously varied population, has never fully accommodated to Saudi and Wahhabi rule. It has always seen itself as more cosmopolitan than the Nejd, looking across the Red Sea to Egypt and north to Syria rather than to the harsh interior. For centuries it was part of the broader Islamic world, a part of the great empires of Islam from the Umayyads to the Ottomans. The Nejd, in contrast-remote and barren as it is-stayed outside of those empires. Moreover, the Hejaz is home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the center for the hajj every year, visited by Muslims from all corners of the ummah, thus exposing Hejazis to views and peoples of all caste and creed. Many of them are critical of the ugly remodeling of the holy cities to allow for plush apartment blocks and designer stores, and a few even long for the return of the Hashemites.

Color me skeptical that there is any deep longing among Saudis of any region to have the great-great- grandson of the Sherif of Mecca “return” as the lord of the Hejaz.

8 Responses to “Brezhnev in the Hejaz?”

  1. joey Says:

    Egypt and Tunisia’s changes of government started as food riots, what would be the trigger in Saudi Arabia.  To much food and oil? not enough Facebook, shortage of smart phones, not enough public executions.  It would be amusing to see the contortions western foreign policy would have to go through to "balance" their message though,  China on the other hand would only say honor your contracts and we couldn’t give a monkeys what you get up to.

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    The distinctiveness of the Hejaz, and the primitiveness of the Wahhabi, is a major theme of Richard Francis Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.   Interesting that these regional and cultural distinctions live on 150 years later.http://tinyurl.com/4xg7qth  

  3. zen Says:

    Didn’t Burton circumcise himself to pass as a Muslim in the Hajji train of pilgrims with no better anesthetic than a bottle of whiskey or some such? He spoke Arabic (and many other languages) and was dark of complexion for an Englishman but he wanted to be certain because discovery would have meant death.
    Steve Coll has a lot on the Hejaz in his book The Bin Ladens.

  4. zen Says:

    "It would be amusing to see the contortions western foreign policy would have to go through to "balance" their message though"
    We already have a message and the whole world knows it:
    "Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
    Carter said that – Jimmy Carter, not George W. Bush – and if a force hostile to the US erupted inside KSA that would overturn global oil markets and the world economy with it, I don’t think the US is going to bother about dainty distinctions between purely indigenous vs. outside forces. And on that issue, China would be announcing it’s support.

  5. ErisGuy Says:

    If the young men of Saudi Arabia admire the cosmopolitan regime of Syria’s Assad, then the future Saudi Arabia will be worse off than the current Saudi Arabia. The rest of us, better off.

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    From the intro to the 1871 edition of the Burton book:  "It was during a residence of many years in India that Mr. Burton had fitted himself for his late undertaking, by acquiring, through his peculiar aptitude for such studies, a thorough acquaintance with various dialects of Arabia and Persia; and, indeed, his Eastern cast of features seemed already to point him out as the very person of all others best suited for an expedition like that described in the following pages."  Nothing about a circumcision.  Good story, though.  

  7. joey Says:

    We already have a message and the whole world knows it…

  8. zen Says:

    It is about the only thing we communicate with clarity. Any ruler who thinks any US administration would let the KSA go off the reservation in regard to it’s role of providing the critical "flex" in the global energy markets is insane. We would move with such severity the Earth would tremble on it’s axis

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