Salman al-Awdah: In the shadow of revolutions

Salman al-Awdah: In the shadow of revolutions
The Middle East in London Magazine April-May 2013

Madawi Al-Rasheed charts how religious scholars in Saudi Arabia reacted and adapted to the Arab uprisings

There is nothing that prompts us to encourage revolution as it is enshrined in danger... .It just comes when  profound reform has stumbled.
Salman al-Awdah, Islamist

Like all of us watching the Arab world in the last two years, Saudi Islamists (I refer throughout to the Salafi Islamists) were taken by surprise when the Arab masses marched en masse calling for the downfall of their regimes.  Official Saudi religious scholars  immediately warned against the chaos of revolutions, banned demonstrations, and called for respect and obedience to rulers. Despite this, they supported the uprisings, perhaps in anticipation of Islamist parties and movements replacing the old regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and beyond.  They were, however, cautious when revolutionary effervescence started creeping into the heart of Arabia.  Amid Saudi calls for demonstrations, civil disobedience and change via the internet, they held back from endorsing such calls, as if to assert that neither they nor their followers were ready for peaceful collective action.  Instead, they applauded the bravery and determination of Arab protestors abroad and shifted their focus to local battles with the Saudi regime against detention of prisoners of conscience, the legitimacy of peaceful collective action and the right of the people to be represented in an elected assembly.

The Unpredictable Succession Plan Of Saudi Arabia


Source: http://www.al-monitor.com

Saudi Arabia is neither an island of tranquility in a turbulent Arab sea nor a country on the verge of revolution. Rather, it is a kingdom in regression, plagued by regular reshuffling of princes and lacking energetic leadership with a serious vision for the future. Its aging king, Abdullah, has had two of his most senior brothers, Minister of Interior Naif and Minister of Defense Sultan, die within the last two years while he continues to hold on to the reins of power as an honorable senior member of an expanding clan-turned-corporation. All King Abdullah can do these days is micromanage the demands of the second-generation princes eager to secure a political post after his death, hence he regularly reshuffles.


Saudi Arabia: local and regional challenges

The Arab uprisings posed serious challenges to Saudi Arabia at the level of society and leadership. Activists engaged in intense debates, and both real and virtual protest, to which the leadership responded by fighting for security and survival. The uprisings added to the regime's internal succession burdens as Islamists in other Arab countries won seats in elected parliaments. The regime responded by deploying tight security measures at home and adopting three strategies to contain the outcome of the Arab uprisings: containment, counter-revolution and revolution. This article examines the intersections between the local and regional challenges facing Saudi Arabia at a critical historical moment. It demonstrates that Arab revolutions and the empowerment of Islamists in neighbouring Arab countries contribute to Saudi Arabia's losing its unique Islamic credentials. The regime is eager to contain the uprisings in such a way as to remain the sole Islamic model in the region.
Full Article can be found here

New Texts Out Now:  A Most Masculine State: Gender, Politics, and Religion in Saudi Arabia

Madawi Al-Rasheed, A Most Masculine State: Gender, Politics, and Religion in Saudi Arabia. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Source: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/9722/new-texts-out-now_madawi-al-rasheed-a-most-masculi

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Madawi Al-Rasheed (MAR): First, the banality of superficial opinions on Saudi women that is so pervasive. In the public sphere, especially in the West, Saudi women are either superstars or victims of their own society and religion. I felt it was time to contribute to this debate from an academic perspective. I do not want to write a book that celebrates the achievement of Saudi women, seeks pity, or even condemns them to the duality of victim/survivor. As a woman with a Saudi background, I feel that we share with other women a certain degree of discrimination and have our own grievances as Saudis. I also feel uncomfortable with the category of “women” as a homogeneous undifferentiated mass. Class, ethnicity, and religious affiliations cut across this category that is varied, stratified, and experiences discrimination in different ways. So the book reflects my own personal journey first, and second, my academic interests.

My previous work always had an awareness of the construction of gender, and the role of women in politics, society, and religion. Since my PhD research in the 1980s, I allowed women their place in my political and historical narratives about the Saudi past and present. More recently, in A History of Saudi Arabia (2002 and 2010), I demonstrated how women feature in the legitimacy narratives of the state and its quest to merge with society as a result of marriage. In A Most Masculine State, I gave this awareness the attention it deserves by situating gender at the center of debates about politics and religion. I have thought about this book for years. It became an urgent project as the Saudi “woman question” has ceased to be merely a local issue and has become a truly global concern. This was an outcome of Saudi internal challenges and external pressure, especially after 9/11, when Saudi Arabia came to the forefront, not simply as an oil producing territory, but as a contested country.

Madawi Al-Rasheed: Gulf States Co-opt Women’s Mobilization and Replace it with State Feminism

♦  Maghrebi women proved they are not a homogeneous mass but are differentiated by class, education, and economic situation.
  Saudi women have opted to bargain with the state because they were not able to unionize.
  Arab uprisings led to breaking the taboo of women in the public sphere, demonstrating and asking for rights.
  The Saudi regime wants us to believe that we only have a problem of women.
  I cannot accept that because I am a woman I am only allowed to talk about women's issues.
  Saudi youth need to learn lessons from Tunisian youth about how to seek rights by action.

Source: http://bil3afya.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/madawi-al-rasheed-gulf-states-co-opt.html

Bil3afya: After the Arab Spring, how do you place women struggles in the Gulf and Maghreb regions?
Madawi Al-Rasheed: The Arab uprisings brought about the well-known struggles of women in both the Gulf and the Maghreb that was fermenting in the twentieth century. In the Maghreb, women were part of national struggles for liberation throughout the anti-colonial struggles but failed to gain rights after decolonization with the exception of some measures under the discourse of modernization and nationalism. They were disappointed with the patronage of male national elites and felt betrayed by the state feminism that dominated the policies of many Maghreb governments. They participated in the recent uprisings throughout North Africa from Cairo to Rabat, moving beyond slogans that touch them as women to national politics, and demonstrating the limits of state feminism under dictatorships. They proved that they are not a homogenous mass but differentiated by class, education and economic situation. They showed diversity in solutions they sought to improve the conditions of the entire nation rather than simply one section of society. They were Islamists, liberals and ideologically non-committed individuals who simply wanted freedom, dignity and justice. After the success of the revolts, they reverted back to their niches as activists grounded in one position, which threatens to divide not only the cause of emancipation but also the nation itself. I hope the opening of the political systems allows women of all political persuasions to voice their dissent without the threat of arrest or even death.

A Most Masculine State

Women in Saudi Arabia are often described as either victims of patriarchal religion and society or successful survivors of discrimination imposed on them by others. Madawi Al-Rasheed's new book goes beyond these conventional tropes to probe the historical, political and religious forces that have, across the years, delayed and thwarted their emancipation. The book demonstrates how, under the patronage of the state and its religious nationalism, women have become hostage to contradictory political projects that on the one hand demand female piety, and on the other hand encourage modernity. Drawing on state documents, media sources and interviews with women from across Saudi society, the book examines the intersection between gender, religion and politics to explain these contradictions and to show that, despite these restraints, vibrant debates on the question of women are opening up as the struggle for recognition and equality finally gets under way.

Surce: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item6970134/?site_locale=en_GB


Demystifying the Caliphate



Edited by Madawi Al-Rasheed, Carool Kersten & Marat Shterin

In Western popular imagination, the Caliphate often conjures up an array of negative images, while rallies organised in support of resurrecting the Caliphate are treated with a mixture of apprehension and disdain, as if they were the first steps towards usurping democracy. Yet these images and perceptions have little to do with reality. Demystifying the Caliphate sheds light on both the historical debates following the demise of the last Ottoman Caliphate and controversies surrounding recent calls to resurrect it, transcending alarmist agendas to answer fundamental questions about why the memory of the Caliphate lingers on among diverse Muslims. From London to the Caucasus, to Jakarta, Istanbul, and Baghdad, the contributors explore the concept of the Caliphate and the re-imagining of the Muslim ummah as a diverse multi-ethnic community.
‘This is a book of exceptional scope and erudition that is nevertheless accessible and very timely. By bringing together such a wealth of regional expertise it succeeds admirably in living up to the promise of its title. More than that, these essays throw new light on the many ways in which even a mythical caliphate can exercise a powerful hold on contemporary political imaginations.’ — Charles Tripp, Professor of Middle East Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Order from Amazon →


Imagined Heroism of the Saudi ‘Nail Polish Girl’

Source: http://www.al-monitor.com
YouTube has become a vibrant alternative to traditional visual media like TV and has broken the monopoly the monotonous and boring Saudi official sources had over media in the country. Young Saudis have become freelance journalists producing their own video clips. A couple of years ago, it became common for Saudis to post video clips of young men and women being dragged away and detained by members of the state-appointed religious police, the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, known as the Haya, which means "committee." Most often, the victim was shown in the video as submissive and silent.

This is no longer the case in present-day Saudi Arabia. On May 23, a Saudi woman posted a video of her heated and animated encounter with a member of the religious police who had asked her to leave a shopping center.
When she demanded an explanation for her expulsion, the Haya agent pointed out that she was wearing excessive makeup and nail polish. Ironically, Saudi women are notorious for excessive spending on cosmetics.
She defiantly refused to leave, promising to teach the agent a lesson.  She told him: "I am free, why are you looking at my face and nails? You have no right to expel me."  She warned him that he was being filmed, and even asked him to smile in front of the camera.


Saudi Arabia Turns Blind Eye To Rising Youth Suicide Rates

Source: http://www.al-monitor.com
A young Saudi man's March 2012 public suicide was caught on video. Madawi Al Rasheed writes that in line with its policy of denial, the regime’s response has been to blame the victim, invoking psychological disorders and Western influence in an attempt to depoliticize the wave of public suicides and ignore the demands of Saudi Arabia's youth.
In March 2012, a young Saudi man jumped off a bridge in central Riyadh. Video footage of the scene not only confirmed that his suicide was a public act, but also triggered a wide debate in the media and the recent release of alarming statistics by the Ministry of the Interior. Suicide, particularly among young men and women, is indeed on the rise in this conservative and pious kingdom where the only justified reason for deliberately killing oneself is martyrdom in the name of God, though ulamas (scholars of Islamic law) strongly disagree among themselves about jihadi suicide bombers.


Saudi Arabia and Syria: logic of dictators

Madawi Al-Rasheed, 20 March 2012

Source: www.opendemocracy.net

Saudi Arabia's support for the armed opposition in Syria reflects the way that the Arab spring is now hostage to regional rivalry, says Madawi Al-Rasheed.

Saudi Arabia’s enthusiastic support for the year-old Syrian uprising contrasts starkly with its condemnation of those in Tunisia and Egypt, its tepid support for revolution in Libya, and its counter-revolutionary role in Bahrain and Yemen. Its calls for the fall of Bashar al-Assad stem from two concerns: one internal and one external.
First, the Saudi regime seeks to contain internal dissent by demonstrating its Sunni credentials against an Alawite (and thus in its eyes heretical) Syrian regime. It is with relish that it watches its own hardline Islamists praying, tweeting and even sobbing on television in support of their Syrian Sunni brethren, who suffer under the iron fist of a Alawite order and a loyal ally of Shi'a Iran. It has tolerated its Wahhabi clerics calling on satellite television for jihad in Syria while bewailing the plight of Syrian women and children. For the Saudi authorities, Syria is a god-sent distraction for its radical Islamists, driven by hatred towards the Shi'a in general and Iran in particular.
The Syrian uprising thus diverts attention from serious internal Saudi challenges. Saudi society is polarised and agitated about corruption, unemployment and the continuous cycle of repression and arrests. Even if the frustrations, anger, deprivation and ideological and tribal schisms have yet to reach boiling-point, the cause of Syria allows Saudis a welcome opportunity to let off steam. At the same time, official support for its Sunni brothers in Syria allows the regime to demonstrate its religious credentials to its own domestic audience.

No Saudi Spring, Anatomy of a Failed Revolution

Source: http://www.bostonreview.net/BR37.2/madawi_al-rasheed_arab_spring_saudi_arabia.php

Last spring, a young Saudi named Muhammad al-Wadani posted a YouTube video of himself calling for democracy, human rights, and more jobs. Echoing Egyptian protesters, he declared, “The people want the downfall of the regime.” On March 7, shortly before a national day of protest planned online, he emerged from the al-Rajhi mosque in central Riyadh with a group of followers. Smiling and wearing an immaculate long white shirt, he held high a sign calling for peaceful demonstration. He was soon overwhelmed by plainclothes and bearded security forces who dragged him into their car and drove him to an unknown location.

Al-Wadani’s Dawasir tribal elders rushed to Riyadh to renew their allegiance to the regime. They issued a statement disowning their son as irresponsible and prey to outside influence. In the Arabian Peninsula, defying the aging leadership amounts to the rejection of parental authority and God. The consequences are banishment and withdrawal of family support, protection, and financial help.

Saudi Arabia and Russia: Settling old scores in Syria

Source: www.bitterlemons-international.org

Defeating Russia in the Arab world was a priority for Saudi Arabia even before it became a fully-fledged commitment in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The current Syrian crisis is perhaps one last opportunity to undermine Russia's eroded sphere of influence in the region. The Saudis may think that defeating Russia this time in Syria could add fresh vigor to their old mythology about defeating atheism in the world and supporting Sunni Muslims globally. While Russia has changed in the last two decades, the Saudi regime is still very much dependent on projecting itself as the defender of Sunni Islam. Such claims are enough to worry the Russians in their own backyard.

The meaning of rights for women

It’s not just about cars, argues Madawi Al-Rasheed

Source: the world today | february & march | 2012Saudi

The meaning of rights for womenIt’s not just about cars, argues Madawi Al-RasheedNews reports from Saudi Arabia often ap-pear bizarre and outrageous: young wom-en lashed for defying a driving ban; women accused of witchcraft beheaded; victims of rape stoned to death. Such practices are not unusual in Saudi Arabia and regularly exposed by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The 2010 Global Gender Gap Report gave Saudi Arabia a high gender gap index, ranking it 129th out of 134 countries. Here, decisions about a woman’s education, her career choice, even health issues are made by male guardians. But Saudi women are mobilising to expose this discrimination.


The Saudi trinity: oil, God and security

The Saudi trinity: oil, God and security

Source: http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/inside.php?id=1455

Madawi al-Rasheed

With the winds of the "Arab spring" still blowing across the region, internally Saudi Arabia seems to have put in place three safeguards against the turbulence. Lavish economic handouts worth more than $70 billion were promised in February to absorb discontent. A package of economic, social, health and educational benefits was meant to absorb immediate frustration at lack of housing, jobs, health facilities, and welfare services. The regime promised more employment opportunities in two relevant sectors: the religious bureaucracy and the security services. The first absorbs the increasing number of graduates who cannot be employed in the private sector. The second strengthens the increasing militarization of Saudi society.

But this was still not enough. Religiously-sanctioned obedience to rulers had to be re-invoked to remind the constituency of a godly obligation. From the minarets of mosques, religious functionaries of the regime preached sermons in which they reminded their audiences of the obligation to obey God, the Prophet and the al-Saud rulers. They warned against demonstrations, civil disobedience and open criticism of the leadership. They glorified the current leadership for its adherence to Islam, and warned against chaos. They vehemently denounced Shiites for their agitations in the Eastern Province, where oil is abundant. Any call for demonstrations was depicted as a Shiite Iranian conspiracy against a pious Sunni nation. They called on the believers to support the rulers, much needed at a turbulent moment. Increasing sectarianism within Saudi Arabia is a reflection of an on-going cold war with Iran.


In the Time of Oil. Piety, Memory and Social Life in an Omani Town

Book Review
In the Time of Oil. Piety, Memory and Social Life in an Omani Town. By Mandana Limbert. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.

In the Time of Oil explores local social change in Bahla,  a small town in the interior of Oman. This change is brought about by the 1970s oil boom and the development of the Omani state under Sultan Qabus, commonly believed to be the ‘author’ of the Omani renaissance. Endowed with new oil revenues, Sultan Qabus tried to integrate the Omani periphery, which had been the political centre of a rival Ibadhi imamate in the interior into the newly consolidated state of 1971. Assisted by a new bureaucratic elite, mainly Omani returnees from East Africa, he brought development plans and modernisation projects to the heartland of the country, historically associated with the vanished conservative Ibadhi imamate. Unlike other oil states of the Gulf region where the promise of an oil utopia enforced the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, this book shows how in Oman, development discourse fostered mysteries, miracles, surprises and deferred dystopias. Because the new social and economic development was entirely generated by sudden oil wealth (the miracle), the new prosperity is seen as a fleeting moment, hostage to a memory of poverty and austerity and an uncertain future.

facebook twitter


Welcome to the personal website of Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed. I hope that you will find the information published here of interest. The views expressed are my personal views and do not represent any organisation.


Join Mailing List