Is Saudi Arabia Simply Misunderstood?


I chose to rewatch a 2009 series which was produced by ‘Frontline’ about the ‘House of Saud.’  As I viewed the first of 11 youtube videos of this series I thought to myself how many ways a picture can be presented through selected words and images.

Saudi Arabia is not a democracy.  It is a tribal state under a monarchy.  It has been and likely always will be a tribal state.  Why do we, as Westerners, generally portray Saudi Arabia as either more or less than meets the eye instead of what it is?  We can agree to disagree with aspects of how any country is governed but that does not make the West the overall jury and judge rolled into one.

I believe Saudi Arabia gets more attention than other tribal countries because of its oil reserves.  Because Saudi Arabia has the vast reserves of oil and the long standing establishment of ARAMCO there is much more scrutiny and judgment placed upon its people and practices.

However, these are simply my own personal views.  Let’s hear and discuss your views after you have taken the opportunity to watch the first of the 11 videos.



14 Responses

  1. Saudi Arabia is hardly misunderstood or misjudged. People talk and report about what they see and experience.

    I agree the West should not judge or impose its values on others. The question is: does any country or group of people have exclusive claims to any set of values that others don’t or cannot have if they are allowed to?

    Don’t you think the West interferes in the Saudi people’s lives by supporting a tyrannical regime that considers its population private property, people “Saudi” people?

  2. @Ali,

    People do talk and report about what they see and experience but in the majority of cases it is with their own customs and traditions in place rather than looking at all views. I’m sure if any of us had to exchange shoes for a month we would each see and appreciate things differently from both sides of life.

    I know we will agree to see things differently with regards to whether the West interferes or to what level it is perceived individually how the West interferes. Not meaning to sound sarcastic, but aren’t Saudi citizens Saudi people the same as American nationals are American people? I realize you are using the term Saudi people in reference to Al-Saud but again I do not see Saudi people as Saudi property.

    I’d like to hear views of other Saudis especially in this regard as to their perspective and why they have the view held.

  3. I do think Saudi Arabia is misunderstood by the US (maybe less so by European countries), we don’t have anything like Arab tribes here. Our understanding of a political system doesn’t include any intermediary between the individual and the state.

    Still, I doubt that Saudi Arabia is any more misunderstood than most foreign countries. What does the average outsider know about Belgium? What makes Saudi Arabia different than other countries whose influence has grown in relation to their economic power, is that there is almost nothing of personal achievement in Saudi wealth. When we think of India we think of the accomplishments of its many engineers, even if we cannot name any personally. When we think of China we think of the labor of millions harnessed ot meet world markets. What have Saudis accomplished of note? The money has come without the kind of effort that builds a country worthy of note. So, they protect their culture and promote a backwater understanding of Islam to the world (and fund terrorists to boot). They are full of pride for being Arabs, but is that pride based on any accomplishments?

  4. AB,
    I started watching the 1 of 11 and now I just made it to the 4th one in the series! I think it’s a bit addicting, but rather informative! 🙂

    I think it is a bit harsh to ask what Saudis have accomplished of note and compare it to China and India as there are quite large differences in history, culture, and work expectations between them. How they act in their daily lives will be shaped by expectations of them. I find the work ethic in the UK to be somewhat less when compared to the US, but if the people haven’t grown up any different and it is accepted where they live, then why would they change their behavior? I know of some Saudis that are willing to work as hard as necessary to accomplish what they want. This may mean working extremely hard to meet deadlines or not putting in as much effort for the situation depending on what is necessary- same as people in the US. Now I will say that my idea of hard work is a bit different than some of theirs, but my idea of hard work is different than most Americans’ idea of hard work, too. LOL.

    I think that Saudi Arabia has come quite a long ways in its relatively short history. I do think it is a bit misunderstood by many. I also think that through globalisation and with the amount of Saudis studying abroad, Saudi Arabia will continue making progress and become a better place over the next 30 years or so. I also think that the monarchy helps to hold the country together. I do not think using a government system similar to that of the US would work in Saudi Arabia at present and would likely destabilize the country.

  5. These videos are amazing and as StangeOne said it is addictive. Saudi Arabia is very misunderstood from the majority of the masses throughout the world. We all have the access to unbiased information, but we certainly do not tap into it.

    One thing that has changed my views of Saudi Arabia is only in realizing that my perception of the people and the country is only from my own Western experience. What we see in our own eye’s may not be what it really is.

    Now I call Saudi Arabia my home. I have been living here for the last 21/2yrs and I am questioning myself as to why I would want to return to Canada. I am one of those people who are living in the Aramco compounds, but I love venturing outside and find it a truly life changing expereince. In fact I am starting to gather research to write a book on Saudi Arabia.

    Thank you Carol for sharing these vidoes. I really enjoy visiting your blog 🙂

  6. I know it is hard to compare huge countries with small ones, but I could make the same comparison between Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia is important for its oil and the wealth that oil brings. None of that was its own doing.That is true of all the oil states in the region. None of them have realized that their real wealth, if it exists at all, is in their people.

  7. … because of its oil reserves AND its Islam.

    Ali , about the” West should not judge or impose its values on others” – well that depends upon the values and it also if you believe that certain values are universal. If you don’t accept that specific moral issues are above nationality, culture, religion, race and political creeds, then it is a dog eat dog world. That may be the problem. Usually the term “Western values” is nothing but an excuse to justify an immoral belief or practice. My opinion.

    Of course, if Islam is a value system, and it is, than I guess it is fair to say that SA is trying to impose its values on others.


  8. I am glad to hear that the videos are addicting and each one is like another “appetizer” with one anxious to receive the main course. I re-watched the first one, wrote my post and then went back and watched the remaining straight through.

    Saudi is different from Singapore and so many other countries due to its tribalism, wealth and religion. Tribalism and religion are embedded in each Saudi national.

    There are exceptional deeds and individuals in Saudi however in accordance with true Saudi culture, many are not made public as that goes against the culture.

  9. Jerry,
    I think that Saudi Arabia has realised that its wealth is in its people. Otherwise, why would they send so many to study abroad at universities on scholarships?

  10. I think that Saudi Arabia is aware that their wealth lies in their people. The evidence of this is that Saudi Arabia spends most of its revenue in the development of the education sector, health and training. And because I am a Saudi citizen and respected all over the world and do not underestimate their ability or capacity. I think you may made a mistake by saying that Saudi Arabia is not a huge country. Of course,it is one of large States, which leads the world.I think that Its Enough that it is the first leader of the Islamic world and Middle East countries.(research about 1973 and check what happened to USA in that year)

  11. This above article is intended to Mr Jerry M.

  12. Saudi Arabia’s development of the education sector is lagging grossly behind and at times is criminal. If ONLY Saudi had invested in that it wouldn’t be in the terrible situation it is in now. And many MANY Muslims do NOT think of it as the leader of the Islamic world. It lags behind there too with it’s patriarchal/tribal ways.

  13. Non tribal societies don’t understand tribal societies.
    It’s one of the reason immigration isn’t that successful.
    Tribal based immigrations groups are – excuse me- a pain in the ass. It means that members doesn’t always
    act rational ( seen from the eyes of their new home country), because the meaning of tribal logic collide
    with the norms of the new society.
    I don’t know if Saudi is more misunderstood than other countries in the middle east. But many people is irritated by the saudis support of mosques and religious schools, not least because the religious ideology favored here is out of sync with the main western values. Intentionally or not the saudis create conflicts.

  14. I like your perspectives Niels on tribal societies.

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