Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia

The Crucial Years of Development, 1960-1982

July 2012 9781849041706 276pp


The events of 9/11 stunned the West and shed new light on Saudi Arabia. Questions were raised about what had driven Saudis — after decades of development and economic expansion — to embrace radical views, display such virulent hatred, and above all, become involved in a terror attack against the US.

This book provides readers with the essential context and background for a real understanding of modern Saudi Arabia. Yizraeli examines a rarely-studied topic: Saudi royal family decision-making in the process of building a modern state. She tracks in detail the internal deliberations in the formative years of development in the Kingdom, when priorities were defined. This unique strategy was first formulated by the royal family in a document known as the ‘Ten Point Programme’, which was delivered in a speech (November 1962) by Crown Prince Faysal. In practice, this strategy placed severe limitations on potential social change and thwarted any reform of the political system that might have been expected had such development been carried out by more western-oriented countries.

While Saudi Arabia today tries to mend past errors, particularly in its educational system, the fundamentals of the regime have remained as they were shaped during the formative decades of development. Whether Saudi Arabia will be able to modernise its society without social and religious up-heaval still remains to be seen, but the course this modernisation takes will be determined by the events outlined in this book.


‘The reasons Saudi Arabia became the authoritarian US client state we know today … is the subject of Sarah Yizraeli’s revelatory new study. Yizraeli has managed to penetrate Saudi society from afar in ways that have eluded journalists and scholars with more direct access. Although she is apparently barred from entering Saudi Arabia as an Israeli citizen, she has long had a following among specialists for her mastery of obscure Saudi and international source material. Significantly, she focuses not on the much-studied decades since 1979 but on the largely neglected preceding era. Intricate in its accumulation of detail and nuance, the story Yizraeli tells is nevertheless stark in its conclusions.’ — New York Review of Books

Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia is a very detailed and accurate description of a time in Saudi Arabia’s history that has shaped the country up until today. The book is a fascinating account of a key period in Saudia Arabia’s history and is also relevant to understanding Saudi Arabia’s role in current events in the Middle East… recommended for anyone interested in the politics of Saudi Arabia and the House of Sa’ud.’—Asian Affairs

‘Yizraeli’s tour de force deftly illustrates how the complex interplay between the royal family, Aramco, the US government, and the religious establishment directly affected the course of Saudi development. She gives the reader what amounts to an insider’s view — though she is far from one. This is a shining example of what judicious scholarship can do.’ — Joshua Teitelbaum, Professor of Middle Eastern History, Bar-Ilan University, and author of Political Liberalization in the Persian Gulf

‘The domestic politics and policies of Saudi Arabia are ob­scured, as it were, by a veil. The regime’s ability to maintain its partnership with an ultra conservative Wahabi religious estab­lishment while modernising the country with huge oil revenues is impressive and often misunderstood. Sarah Yizraeli’s excel­lent new book illuminates these and other issues. Her sound scholarship and clear presentation make this book mandatory reading to anyone interested in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, the politics of development and oil. The Saudi regime’s current confrontation with the ripple effects of the Arab Spring make the book all the more relevant.’ — Itamar Rabinovich, Tel Aviv University, NYU and Brookings Institution

‘Sarah Yizraeli’s new book on Saudi Arabia is a highly informative, impeccably researched and eloquently presented journey into the secret world of the Kingdom. This is an impressive attempt to decipher what really goes on in a country hiding behind a veil of contradictions.’ — Ehud Yaari, Fellow of The Washington Institute and Middle East commentator of Ch. 2 TV, Israel

‘A very useful examination of an important period in Saudi history … Recommended.’ — C.H. Allen, Choice

‘Unlike most of the literature on the kingdom, which tends to focus on the period from 1979 onward, the book focuses on a key time period when Saudi society was undergoing significant social, economic, and political changes and tumult. … Yizraeli’s book includes a wealth of previously unavailable archival information and is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature on both Saudi Arabia and the modern Middle East.’ — The Muslim World Book Review


Sarah Yizraeli is Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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