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The New Middle Class and Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia by Mark Heller; Nadav Safran

Review by: Alexander Bligh


Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 237-239
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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BOOK REVIEWS 237
also external investments in Lebanese discord to take into account - investments which
by 1958, and more so by 1975, were coming from every direction. Still, something could
have been done, and can still be done, at the Lebanese level, and by the Christians
before others, as happened between 1918 and 1926. If they persist in opting for
devolution rather than evolution, the Christian Lebanese may well find themselves,
before long, jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
The threads of what may actually be the real lesson in Dr Zamir's story can be found
in his own text: 'The strong ties of the Christians, particularly the Maronites, with
Europe led the Muslims to identify them with the European powers, and to regard
them as traitors ... The Christians ... often behaved in a superior and provocative
manner, further increasing Muslim hostility ...'. Particularly perceptive is another
remark: 'Between 1918 and 1920 the Christian demand for an independent state in
Lebanon appeared to the Muslims of Syria as a more immediate and serious threat
than the corresponding Zionist demand in Palestine'. Dr Zamir explains this irony on
two counts, but misses a third, which I consider the most important: the Muslims of
Syria in 1920 identified Zionism as an external danger, but they diagnosed the call for
Christian Lebanese separatism, in collusion with a Western power, as treason and
subversion from within. Their diagnosis of the Christian position may have been
uncharitable, but so was the dominant Christian Lebanese attitude towards the
aspirations of the Muslims of Syria at the time. The fatal mistake the Maronites
committed in 1920 was not hailing the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon
by General Henri Gouraud in September; it was demonstrating in joy over the defeat
of Faisal's army by the same General Gouraud in July. Had they been wiser then, they
would have saved themselves many problems. To err, of course, is human, but it is
never too late to mend.
In dealing with the historical background to the story of the formation of modern
Lebanon, Dr Zamir, excusably, had to resort to generalizations based on available
studies of Lebanese history which remain arguable. For example, the concept of the
Lebanese Imarah (Emirate), between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, stands
for considerable revision. The complete story of the Maronites, from the origins until
the nineteenth century, remains to be told. The story of the Sunnites and Shiites in
Lebanon remains virtually unknown, and only the faint outline of the story of the
Druzes is as yet discernible. Much remains to be done in the field before any safe
generalizations on such matters can be made. There is no real evidence, for example,
that the special relations between the Maronites and France date back to the capitu-
lations of 1535. As late as the early seventeenth century, the Maronite relations appear
to have been more with the Medici of Tuscany. It was probably the chancery
of Louis
XIV, later in that century, that first advised the French adoption of the Maronites.
Certainly, the documented history of the special relations between the Maronites and
France dates from no earlier time.
KAMAL S. SALIBI
The New Middle Class and Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia by Mark Heller and Nadav
Safran. Cambridge, MA: CenterforMiddle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, 1985.
Pp. 36, appendices, notes.
In this Paper No. 3 of the Harvard Middle East Series (Modern Series) the authors
attempt to present and analyse a contemporary problem in the politics of the Middle
East. The task that they have undertaken is indeed enormous: to define the new middle
class in Saudi Arabia, describe its size and components, and assess its participatidn
in current and future crises in the kingdom - and to accomplish all this with the very
scarce data that are available.
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238 MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES
To date, most efforts to draw a full picture of Saudi Arabia's political and social
processes have been hampered by the lack of reliable data. The authors of this short
essay succeed in presenting a rounded picture by asking the right questions when figures
are not available. Their main thesis is that Saudi Arabia has a new middle class, which
plays a growing role in the Saudi political system. While there does not seem to be
a trigger-issue that will spur members of this new class to change the rules of the game,
Heller and Safran feel that this is likely to emerge within the next two to ten years.
As the format
-
both physical and in content - suggests that this well researched
and interestingly presented pilot-study will be further developed at a later date, the
bulk of my following remarks will deal with points to be developed in a fuller study
rather than with a commentary on the text per se.
However, I wish to take issue with the authors on the idea that there is a new middle
class, and that it first appeared in the 1960s. First, the emergence of the Free Princes
in the context of the succession rivalries had very little to do with a Saudi middle class.
The Princes' usage of liberal slogans, aimed at recruiting individual educated com-
moners into their ranks, was unsuccessful then as well as on the many occasions it has
been repeated. The fact that the constitution and other major changes promised by
King Fahd has not yet materialized may indicate that there is no comprehensive middle
class that has to be satisfied. Still, the King's promises are aimed at placating those
individuals who wish to feel their own impact on the royal Saudi political system.
Secondly, at least in terms of figures the new middle class has first emerged as a
result of the early 1970s oil-boom. The increase in production and in the income
emanating from oil heightened the need for skilled labor and improved Saudi ability
to finance the training required. Thus, the current sharp decline in oil production
necessitates a new set of questions regarding this emergent middle class. How will a
possible slow-down, or even cessation of advanced training for young Saudis and the
decrease in the number of appropriate jobs inside the kingdom, for example, affect
the strength of this class and its potential to trigger future changes in the Saudi system?
One might also ask whether the development of any class can be traced by numbers
alone. Heller and Safran reach many of their conclusions on the basis of the growth
of such groups as civil servants, military officers and teachers (p. 10). What is needed
is an analysis of these figures broken down by the origins of the members of this alleged
new middle class. The writers themselves say (p. 13) that '... the new middle class ...
has attained a "critical mass" that, in other countries, has produced revolutionary
change'. As this change has not yet occurred in Saudi Arabia, one is prompted to ask
the inevitable question of its probability, and of whether the numbers that fit into a
prescribed model necessarily preclude that all those belonging theoretically to this class
constitute one comprehensive interest group. If, for example a large proportion is
royalty or members of tribes, their standing as an interest group may not be that
suggested by the authors.
In addition, a criterion having to do with the reaction of the middle-class members
to new values and methods should be applied. For it is not always true that Western-
educated young men become revolutionaries; for example, it is not unknown for
returning Saudi students to turn into devout Muslims. While such information can
only be gained by meticulous research in the field
-
which is not possible at present
-
the problem itself should be presented to the reader.
Another set of questions has to do with the place of Muslim ideology in the political
thinking of the ruling and the new middle classes. Future research should perhaps begin
by developing a unique Saudi model. It should include appropriate components from
the present study, derived from Islam-inspired changes in Middle East regimes and
allowing enough leeway for the local Saudi factors described by Heller and Safran
(pp. 15-23).
This essay indeed provides material necessary for all those interested in contemporary
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BOOK REVIEWS 239
Saudi Arabia. We can only hope that it will be continued along the lines suggested
above.
ALEXANDER BLIGH
Russian Azerbaijan, 1905-1920 - The Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim
Community by Tadeusz Swietochowski, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1985, Pp.XIV + 256, 3 maps, bibliography, index. ?25.
During the last 10-15 years many monographs and articles have been published
on different aspects of the national movement among the Muslims of pre-revolutionary
Russia and Soviet Union. It is a popular topic in the West, especially in the United
States. Unfortunately, most of these publications are of mediocre quality. Not
one can be compared with the standard work of Richard Pipes, The Formation
of the Soviet Union - Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923 (rev. ed. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), which is still unequalled. The authors, in
majority political scientists, lack the necessary linguistic skills and are therefore,
as a rule, dependent entirely on Russian sources. Generally they do not possess
the historical background in Islamic culture and tend to approach this complicated
and difficult problem from the Russian and Soviet standpoint. Too often the 'natives'
are treated as 'objects' of Russian colonialism or of the Soviet social engineering,
as a kind of folkloric savages rather than as inheritors of a long and glorious civil-
ization going back to the time of Alexander the Great.
For several reasons Tadeusz Swietochowski's book is a brilliant exception. It
is the result of a splendid scholarly research and uses all available sources in all
languages, Russian but also Turkish and Azeri Turkic. Moreover, Swietochowski's
work concerns one of the most important, but also one of the most difficult area
of Russian Islam, Azerbaijan, because the national movement in this territory
was submitted to several contradictory poles of attraction: Young Turks, Iranian
revolutionary movement, Tatar pan-Turkism, Russian and Armenian socialism
and so on. Only an accomplished scholar can tackle the Azerbaijani problem.
For this reason it has attracted few specialists, with the only exception of Audrey
Alstadt-Mirhadi whose 'Azerbaijani-Turkish Community of Baku before World
War I' (PhD Chicago, 1983) has unfortunately not yet been published.
Swietochowski' analyses the evolution of the Russian administration, the impact
of the discovery of oil in Baku, the rise of the native intelligentsia, the literary
revival of the nineteenth century and the beginning of secularism, the school reform,
the appearance of the national press in Russian and in Azeri-Turkic and finally,
with full details the description of the political evolution from 1905 to 1920.
We must congratulate Swietochowski on his superb book. I do hope that it
will open a new chapter in the scholarly research on Russian and Soviet Islam
and that it will be followed and used as a model by other young scholars, who
are better trained than their predecessors, who have better linguistic skills and
have a greater understanding of the problems of Islam. It is indeed high time for
Western scholars to stop 'discovering' Soviet Islam and wasting
their time and
efforts in sterile discussions about the place of Islam in the national awareness
of Soviet Muslims.
ALEXANDRE BENNIGSEN
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