Why Saudi Arabia is Embracing a New Nationalism

Jan 4, 2019 | 10:00 GMT

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai (C) arrives for a historic first-time meeting with the Saudi crown prince on Nov. 14, 2017, in Riyadh.

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai (C) arrives for a first-time meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Nov. 14, 2017, in Riyadh.



  • Saudi Arabia is changing its restrictions on how some expatriates can practice Christianity as part of its strategy to weaken hard-line Islam's defining role in Saudi identity.
  • In doing so, Riyadh increases the space for Saudi nationalism to take root, but an ascendant Saudi nationalism will also eventually challenge the monarchy's role in managing the state.
  • Nationalism will increasingly color Saudi relations with other states and become a new check on the monarchy's power.

Saudi Arabia, long-known for a society, culture and government steeped in conservative Islamist policies, has begun introducing a new nationalism that allows limited expressions of other faiths. The monarchy is hoping that by encouraging a broader nationalism, it can create space for modernization-focused social and economic reforms, which are a key element of the country's broader Vision 2030 plan. But while reducing hard-line Islam's role in the kingdom has its benefits, establishing a more secular atmosphere also risks inviting a new nationalist resistance to domestic government policies and impose new constraints on Saudi foreign policy. ...

Keep Reading

Register to read three free articles

Proceed to sign up

Register Now

Already have an account?

Sign In