Saudi Arabian State Modernization Policies versus Traditional Values

University essay from Lunds universitet/Centrum för Mellanösternstudier

Abstract: This thesis seeks to understand current Saudi Arabian political trajectories and recent reform initiatives, in relation to the traditionalist ideological roots and conservative Islamic legitimacy of the state. Methodologically based on a quantitative case study of the ‘Saudi Vision 2030’ reform project, the thesis discusses the limitations of democracy and secularization in relation to the pursuit of economic liberalization. Theoretically, the thesis takes a critical discussion of modernization theory as its point of departure, discussing its early formulations, its development and its relation to recent discussions on Islamism, post-Islamism and neo-modernization. In discussion of the Vision 2030 project in relation to current research on Saudi Arabian politics and ideological orientation, the thesis explores the negotiations and contradictions inherent to the Saudi Arabian ‘modernization’ project, balancing economic reform, privatization and cultural initiatives with religious conservatism and political authoritarianism. The thesis concludes that any significant Saudi Arabian socio-political change would require democratic and secularizing efforts outside of current reform initiatives. In the final analysis, Vision 2030 comes across as a limited cultural and economic liberalization initiative, aimed at (and potentially successful in) strengthening state legitimacy, while preserving ideological traditionalism and political authoritarianism.

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