Saudi Arabia: Why Are We Misunderstood?


It seems that just like the fire of the Arab Spring continues to flame so does the chasm between East and West.  Saudi Arabia is the country in the Arab world that is coming through the Arab Spring without any evident cracks of change.  Saudi Arabia is also the country which other leaders in the GCC are looking to for stability.  The Western countries are prone to rush in and want to “fix things” but to a Western ideology that is not known or practiced in the East. 

Saudi Arabia will always be a tribal patriarchal society which has been built on firm foundation of trust and partnerships and alliances. Many of the alliances may be as simple as a handshake but that is all it takes in the Eastern world.  When there is an alliance and a word has been given to protect or to help it is good and not questioned.

The Western world has a tendency to want to save and salvage.  The Eastern world does to but in a manner which is obscure and does not need to be in the center headlights. 

Now is the time when more of the world is watching Saudi Arabia waiting for the moves of the Kingdom’s leaders. Life will go on as usual for people and families but one of the most complex chess games will be taking place behind the scenes towards regaining GCC stability and alliances.


9 Responses

  1. ‘Saudi Arabia will always be a tribal patriarchal society…’

    Oh, you never know. After all, it was a matriarchal society before and it changed so why couldn’t it change again?

  2. Asalamu Alaikum Carol, hope you and your family are doing well insha’Allah. I just wanted to ask about the title of your post…who is the “we” you are referring to? Thanks, T

  3. ” When there is an alliance and a word has been given to protect or to help it is good and not questioned”

    I assume your referring to the average Saudi man and not any of the current leaders of Arab countries that are not too bothered about protecting or keeping alliances with their own people…hence all the shooting and killing going on.

  4. I think this is a bit of a romanticised view of the way tribalism works. I do hope that with lots of intermarriage tribalism can be broken down. I see it as the root of many of mankinds troubles- not just in the East.

  5. I see the WE as a big WE….Saudis, Arabs and even Westerners all combined together.

    Bear with me folks…the next few articles of mine are more abstract. I’ve had some challenges with attention and writing. I pray this is only a temporary situation.

  6. *‘Saudi Arabia will always be a tribal patriarchal society…’

    Oh, you never know. After all, it was a matriarchal society before and it changed so why couldn’t it change again?*

    I second Lynn’s comment

  7. The problem for Saudi Arabia is that its tribal system doesn’t work anymore. The system grew up in a world in which a large portion of the population was nomadic. That is no longer true. It was also a system designed when there were few foreigners in the country, That, too, is no longer true. Saudi Arabia’s system of justice is good enough if you are a Saudi male connected to a powerful tribe. Unfortunately many of Saudi residents are not males connected to a powerful tribe. The inability of Saudi Arabia to address the needs of women is due almost entirely to the fact that those in power are men (and often quite elderly).

  8. I think both tribalism and Islam itself as practiced in Saudi are viewed inaccurately – and often romantically – by those outside the Kingdom as something “more than” mere westerners can comprehend.

    I’ve found the opposite to be true.

    Far from a society based on trust, partnerships and alliances, this is a society where no one trusts anyone – to paraphrase a popular Saudi saying – my tribe against your tribe, my family against your family, me against my brother.

    Lack of trust is at the crux of the way women are treated here – from the guardianship system and covering to driving and arcane divorce laws; it defines the failing education system and even makes foreign workers “necessary”. It is seen throughout the government in redundancies and red tape, in wishy-washy rules and laws which can be twisted to fit every situation, and most apparently in wasta.

    The misunderstandings, I think, come not because of the remnants of tribalism, but rather because of the inherent lack of trust which permeates every facet of personal life, society and government, making transparency, honesty, accountability and integrity impossible, while at the same time turning every decision and interaction into a WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

    As far as chess goes, I agree the game is in progress, but the goal of overall GCC stability is far less important than maintaining and increasing personal power, money and control. Making it anything else is, I think, is wishful thinking.

  9. Looking at Saudi Arabia from the outside, I don’t think it’s not understood. Sometimes we just think it’s a little bit weird.
    But it’s interesting to follow KSA development from a very traditional society to a big (by population) very modern society ( at least in parts of the country). A lot of the issues created by
    modern societies is also hitting KSA, from small everyday things illness ( the diabetes epidemic) the relationships handled by civic law, the question of trust between people to the big themes democracy local and national.
    KSA has to develop it’s own way of handling these issues.

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