One of the key developments in the Middle East in the last few decades has been the growing alliance between Egypt and some of the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates/UAE). For most of the 1950s and 1960s Egypt, under President Gamal Abd al-Nasser, viewed the Gulf’s ruling families as reactionary and medieval regimes whose days were numbered. Meanwhile, the Gulf leaders felt threatened by Nasser’s vision of Arab nationalism and socialism.
Under Vision 2030, a new sense of national pride has been growing among a majority of Saudis, accentuating the positive emotions related to Saudi pre-Islamic history. But there is a common misconception that Saudis have a problem with their pre-Islamic past, considering it antithetical to Islam. According to this misconception, this era should be ignored or at least not celebrated, and absolutely not incorporated into any formulation of what is Saudi Heritage.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comprises 13 administrative divisions, officially called Emirates of the Provinces and each headed by a governor appointed by the king.
Saudi Arabia has been undergoing a massive transformation process to implement “Vision 2030”, a roadmap for post-oil diversification.
The Border Guard is the most understudied force of Saudi Arabia. But in the 2000-2020 timeframe, militias hostile to the kingdom have grown at its borders (the Houthis in Yemen; the Hashd al Shaabi in Iraq). The Border Guard is also the force that has suffered the highest number of Saudi casualties in Yemen since 2015 and its trajectory is extremely intertwined with that of the Yemeni Border Guard.
In the past few years, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a flurry of top-down socio-economic reforms – typically referred to by the title of one main reform program, Vision 2030 – aimed at easing conservative restrictions on Saudi social life and diversifying an oil-reliant economy.
When protests broke out in January 2016 across the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia following the execution of Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, a prominent Shi’a cleric, and 47 other prisoners, relations between Shi’a groups and the Saudi establishment appeared to be at an all-time low. By 2017, following widespread protests amongst Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a population – estimated to be in the region of 10-15% – the Old Quarter of Awamiya, in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province was levelled by the state’s security forces in a months-long battle with militants.
In recent years, there has been a significant over-concentration of wealth, power, and employment opportunities in the main urban centers, especially the capital Riyadh. Nonetheless, this over-concentration in the capital worries some.
In Saudi Arabia, “Vision 2030” and Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s economic and social reforms affect also the geographical peripheries of the kingdom. Some of these provinces present long-time economic and social inequalities with respect to the political centre, showing also distinct features in terms of culture and, sometimes, confessional identity. Borderland areas are also connected for kinship and networks with troubled neighbouring states (from Yemen to Iraq), with implications for border security.
In spite of numerous efforts by the USA and its European and regional allies, the three-year blockade of Qatar by the Arab quartet shows no sign of abating. With the Trump administration determined to ratchet up its pressure on Iran and the UN’s Iran arms embargo expiry date fast approaching, one can be certain that the current crisis is set to gain an added urgency in the days and weeks ahead.