The Son King

Reform and Repression in Saudi Arabia

Madawi Al-Rasheed

Reform and ruthless repression go hand in hand in MBS’s Saudi Arabia.

Bibliographic Details
The Son King Hardback
December 2020£20
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In 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi regime operatives, shocking the international community and tarnishing the reputation of Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s young, reformist crown prince. Domestically, bin Salman’s reforms have proven divisive, and his adoption of populist nationalism and fierce repression of diverse critical voices—religious scholars, feminists and dissident youth—have failed to silence a vibrant and well-connected Saudi society.

Madawi Al-Rasheed lays bare the world of repression behind the crown prince’s reforms. She dissects the Saudi regime’s propaganda and progressive new image, while also dismissing Orientalist views that despotism is the only pathway to stable governance in the Middle East. Charting old and new challenges to the fragile Saudi nation from the kingdom’s very inception, this blistering book exposes the dangerous contradictions at the heart of the Son King’s Saudi Arabia.


Madawi Al-Rasheed is Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics Middle East Centre and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is the author and editor of several books on Saudi Arabia, most recently Salman's Legacy: The Dilemmas of a New Era in Saudi Arabia, also published by Hurst.


‘With MBS a stone’s throw away from the throne of Saudi Arabia, this book couldn’t be more urgently needed. Madawi Al-Rasheed sets the crown prince within a wider historical context and exposes the repression behind his image as a “liberal reformer”.’ — Iyad El-Baghdadi, writer, activist and founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation

‘An exceptionally clear-sighted, readable analysis of the regime of Crown Prince Muhammad ibn Salman. With consummate skill, Al-Rasheed has dissected his programme of populist nationalism, bringing to light not only the methods used, but also the contradictions at its heart.’ — Charles Tripp, Professor Emeritus of Politics, SOAS University of London

‘This book felt close to my heart as a woman activist and exile. Madawi Al-Rasheed provides nuanced analysis of reimagined Saudi nationalism, the excessive repression sold as the inevitable price of reforms, and the resistance of a new diaspora movement. A must-read.’ — Hala Al-Dosari, activist and Robert E. Wilhelm Fellow, MIT Center for International Studies

‘A brilliant response to those who claim that Saudis need enlightened despotism to get ahead. Despotic the Son King surely is, but his lights are off, and he is driving the country—and the region—into the wall. Woe to the land whose king is a child.’ — Pascal Menoret, Renée and Lester Crown Professor of Modern Middle East Studies, Brandeis University

‘Madawi Al-Rasheed brilliantly goes beyond the overused dichotomy between “reform” and “tradition” and studies the social and political realities of Saudi Arabia’s new era. From populist nationalism to a growing Saudi diaspora, The Son King is an essential book for understanding the crown prince’s kingdom.’ — Abdullah Alaoudh, Visiting Adjunct Professor, George Washington University