The major player in the OPEC international oil industry cartel, Saudi Arabia is also the homeland of the Prophet Muhammad and the center of the Muslim world with the most sacred Islamic sites located in and around the cities of Mecca and Madina. To the non-Saudi, the kingdom appears remarkably calm and stable, at least by the standards of the Middle East. But the rise of a new type of international terrorism, personified by exiled Saudi Osama bin Laden and with extensive roots in post- Gulf War Saudi Arabia, testifies to a volatile underground of discontent within the kingdom. Ideological frustration with the Saudi regime's perceived submission to American imperialism has merged with Saudi Arabia's chronic social and economic inequality to create an increasingly unstable situation.
Daryl Champion, a specialist in Saudi Arabian affairs, opens a vista on these developments usually closed to Western observers. In the face of internal and external calls for reform and the mounting imperatives of globalization, the Al Saud dynasty is at a crossroads. The reforms required by the global economy conflict with both the vested interests of the kingdom's elites and the demands of a domestic population that has deeply conservative religious and cultural roots and proud traditions. The Paradoxical Kingdom develops five interrelated themes, exploring the complex cross currents of religion, tradition, domestic and global economics, politics, and state power in Saudi Arabia as the nation uneasily enters the twenty-first century. It shows how a great deal of wealth has been squandered and how the state's wealth is in decline, examines the Arabian equivalent of Asia's infamous "crony capitalism," and considers the durability of the Saudi oil/welfare state and the House of Saud itself.
Champion's portrait of domestic Saudi society is augmented by an examination of the kingdom's increasingly complicated and uneasy relationship with the United States. He explores the vital interconnections between the rising tide of anti-American sentiment in Saudi Arabia and popular resistance to the cultural implications of globalization. This conflation of forces, Champion argues, portends a future of increasing political dissent in the land of the Prophet.
Columbia University Press