The Saudi state as an identity racketeer

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Although substantial research has examined the Saudi state’s symbiosis with the Islamic revivalist movement commonly known as ‘Wahhabism’, few studies have considered how the dynamics of state formation underpin this relationship. This article argues that a continuous and circular political logic lies behind the Saudi state’s patronage of the revivalist movement since 1744 and proposes a four-stage model that explains how and why the regime has maintained its support for the revivalist movement over such a prolonged period. This article first outlines the model, then presents a detailed analysis of its persistent presence in the development of Saudi state authority in order to highlight the recurrent manner by which the state often has constructed the spiritual concerns of revivalists to counter challenges to its authority, a pattern demonstrated most recently during the Arab Spring and the war in Yemen. The effects of this model will continue to shape the decisions, policies and perceptions of the Saudi political elite for the foreseeable future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105–121
Number of pages17
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Charles Tilly
  • Identity
  • Religious revivalism
  • Saudi Arabia
  • State building
  • State protection racketeering
  • Wahhabism

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