A superb review at The New Republic’s on-line book review, The Book, by Samuel Helfont (a Ph.D. student at Princeton) of Stéfane Lacroix’s Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Saudi Arabia (HUP 2011). After noting that Saudi Arabia has always posed something of a “blind spot” to scholars of Islamic societies, Helfont gives a very good summary of this book and concludes with this:
In the era of the Arab Spring, it is enticing to see Arab history as moving steadily toward a more democratic and less authoritarian future: the will of the people has finally challenged and even overthrown entrenched dictatorial regimes. But again the kingdom of Saudi Arabia seems like a holdover from a past era, and in the surge of scholarship that is beginning to appear on popular movements and democracy in the Arab World, Saudi Arabia may again seem passé and unimportant. This would be a mistake. If the history of Saudi Arabia teaches anything, it is that Western social scientists often miss the mark when assessing where the Middle East is headed. While it would be tempting to assume that the Saudi monarchy will fade into the ancient sands of the Arabian Peninsula, destined to be replaced by a more modern and democratic state, it would be incredibly dangerous to do so.
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: A propos of this review, see also this dreadful news story about the execution of a woman in Saudi Arabia for practicing sorcery. (h/t Volokh).