No Democracy Please, We’re Saudis

  • David Cowan


At the level of political international relations theorists explore how and why states act and interact, and examine what we mean by sovereignty. The foundation of western political thought about states is the Westphalian system, which is clearly understood. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War and brought about the modern European nation state system and the system of sovereign states, not just for Europe but the world. While the notions of statehood and sovereignty are applied in the Arab world, the picture is somewhat more complex, for two principal reasons. First, the oft-stated call for Arab unity, and second the role of religion in the Arab world. Pan-Arabism is understood to be at the core of regional diplomacy and interactions between the states, which if carried to its logical conclusion would override the Westphalian system of states with their self-interest and conflict, and instead lead to greater unity in the interests of pan-Arab goals. Clearly this is not the case, as pan-Arabism is stymied by the many variances within the Arab world. Likewise religion, which is often taken to be oppositional when it comes to Islam. In the case of Saudi, we have a state that is monarchical and self-interested in maintaining the house of Saud, and one that binds together the leading families with religion as a social thread running throughout the kingdom. It has many conflicts with other Arab and Islamic states on the one hand, and promotes global Islam on the other. In short, Islam overrides nationalism, and Saudi Arabia as a kingdom understands its role to be custodian of both the two holy sites and the Arabian peninsula as the home of Mohammed’s Islam and also globally as a kingdom that promotes the spirit of global Islam, which in turn eclipses any national identity or interest.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

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