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The Making of Saudi Arabia, 1916-1936: From Chieftaincy to Monarchical State.

By Joseph Kostiner. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Pp. xii, 260. $39.95.)

Joseph Kostiner addresses the dialectical tension between tribe and state in the formation of Saudi Arabia as a modem kingdom in this book. In particular, he concentrates on the years between 1916 and 1936, which he considers formative in the shift from a tribal chieftaincy to a monarchical state. This process entailed three major elements. The first was the initial phase of state formation between 1916 and 1925, when Ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi Kingdom, used tribal disputes to undermine the power of his main rivals, particularly King Husayn of the Hijaz, and attain political and military supremacy.

Kostiner next discusses the internal challenges to Ibn Saud's authority which emanated from two groups: Ikhwan (Islamic Revivalists) tribes of Najd, and the urban populations of Hijaz. The Ikhwan opposed Ibn Saud's centralization of power in himself and in a "western-style" state. On the other hand, the urban notables of commercial cities like Jidda regarded Najdi rule as too conservative in social and religious matters and were unhappy with the ambivalent economic policies of Ibn Saud. By militarily suppressing the most vociferous Rhwan opponents, and coopting other opposition, Ibn Saud finally attained social cohesion in support of the state by 1930. Lastly, Kostiner discusses the consolidation of the borders of Saudi Arabia, emphasizing the border conflict between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. These conflicts resulted in a series of negotiated agreements that clearly defined the borders of the state by 1934.

Relying largely on British records relating to the region, Kostiner has compiled an extremely detailed political history of the early Saudi state. Unfortunately, Kostiner's attention to minutiae loses the reader amidst the political maneuverings, forging and breaking of tribal alliances, confused British policy, and the myriad names that populate this book This problem is compounded by a lack of explanatory analysis at crucial moments. For example, Kostiner never really explains why particular Ikhwan tribes seemed to switch readily between opposing and supporting Ibn Saud. Also, we are never sure why Ibn Saud moved from simply trying to consolidate his rule over Najd to expanding it beyond that region. Finally, although Kostiner asserts in the introduction that the British involvement in the region was a primary cause for the rise of the Saudi state, his subsequent description of events makes the British appear as just one of the many elements in that process.

These problems make Kostiner's book inaccessible to the novice in Middle Eastern history. However, for specialists in this field, Kostiner's book serves well as a reference, and as a source of many interesting questions about the relationship between ideology and state building, between peripheral interests and centralized institutions, and between indigenous interests and British colonial policies. Unfortunately, Kostiner leaves many of these questions unanswered.

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Author:Khater, Akram Fouad
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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