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The Other Saudis
Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism


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Part of Cambridge Middle East Studies

  • Date Published: January 2015
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107618237

£ 19.99

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About the Authors
  • Toby Matthiesen traces the politics of the Shia in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia from the nineteenth century until the present day. This book outlines the difficult experiences of being Shia in a Wahhabi state, and casts new light on how the Shia have mobilised politically to change their position. Shia petitioned the rulers, joined secular opposition parties and founded Islamist movements. Most Saudi Shia opposition activists profited from an amnesty in 1993 and subsequently found a place in civil society and the public sphere. However, since 2011 a new Shia protest movement has again challenged the state. The Other Saudis shows how exclusionary state practices created an internal Other and how sectarian discrimination has strengthened Shia communal identities. The book is based on little-known Arabic sources, extensive fieldwork in Saudi Arabia and interviews with key activists. Of immense geopolitical importance, the oil-rich Eastern Province is a crucial but little known factor in regional politics and Gulf security.

    • Explains the historical background of 2011's Arab Spring protests
    • Describes a little-known but important factor in Middle East politics and security
    • Relies on extensive fieldwork
    Read more


    • Winner of the Bronze Medal, 2015 Washington Institute Book Prize

    Reviews & endorsements

    'An extremely powerful analysis of the Shia of Saudi Arabia. Matthiesen lucidly moves between the past and the present with great linguistic and analytical skills that demonstrate panoramic knowledge and in-depth understanding of one of the most complex minority situations in the Arab world. His thoughtful historical account is matched by his familiarity with wider contemporary regional contexts and domestic politics.' Madawi Al-Rasheed, London School of Economics and Political Science

    'Matthiesen skillfully fills in a large gap in the literature of Saudi Arabia as well as of modern Muslim politics. Drawing on an impressive range of sources, he expertly documents both the enduring power of the regime and portentous transformations in communal identity and authority. This detailed and thoughtful study of the Kingdom's Shia will become the standard work on an increasingly important subject.' James Piscatori, University of Durham

    'Matthiesen's book is based on an impressive work of data collection. It mixes the analysis of previously unexploited archival material with fieldwork to offer an insightful and compelling picture of Shiism in Saudi Arabia. It definitely fills a vacuum in our knowledge of contemporary Shiism.' Laurence Louër, Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris

    'This sweeping history of the Shi'ites of Saudi Arabia immediately becomes a definitive account of their politics and social organization. Drawing on wide-ranging interviews inside and outside of Saudi Arabia, along with a wealth of novel documentary sources and political publications, Matthiesen presents a compelling account of the evolving relations between the Shi'ite community and the Saudi state, and of the Shi'ite networks that cross the Gulf and the region.' Marc Lynch, The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog

    '[This book] is helpful in understanding some of the current problems in Saudi Arabia, the leading regional ally of choice of the United States.' Cosmopolis

    'The Other Saudis is an important, if not indispensable, guide to one of the least understood but most influential countries of the Middle East, a region that is coming apart in the midst of sectarian conflicts and civil wars.' Ray Takeyh, Survival

    'The Other Saudis makes an original contribution to scholarship on the modern history and politics of Shi'a in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East and provides abundant evidence for further analytical work on sectarianism.' David Commins, The American Historical Review

    'This book is particularly timely given the resurgent importance (rightly or wrongly) attached to sectarian politics throughout the region. Most importantly, it situates this sectarianism within the broader economic and political contexts of the Saudi kingdom, and explains its function and utility in the larger project of shaping Saudi national identity … there is little doubt that this is a valuable contribution to the field and required reading for all serious historians of the modern Middle East.' Alexander Khaleeli, Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies

    'Matthiessen's excellent volume is an objective historical analysis of the Twelver Shi'ah, largely in the Eastern Province, and to a much lesser extent … of the Ismā'īlīs in Najran.' Anthony McRoy, The Muslim World Book Review

    '… Matthiesen provides an impressive analysis of primary documents that have never been studied before, some of which remain in private hands. His reconstruction of Shia history and self-understanding is nuanced and rich …' Natana Delong-Bas, E-International Relations (

    'Matthiesen describes the often difficult lives of two million Shias in eastern Saudi Arabia - many of them employees of oil companies - whose right to practice their form of Islam contracts and expands according to royal whim … Most striking of all is Matthiesen's meticulous portrayal of contemporary Shiism.' Nicolas Pelham, The New York Review of Books

    'Through his detailed analysis, Matthiesen shows that sectarianism is not ingrained but has evolved over the years and depends on political and social circumstances that influenced specific institutions, ideologies, state policies, social practices.' Roel Meijer, Middle East Journal

    'Matthiesen's The Other Saudis is a good example of a historically grounded approach to the study of sectarianism and communal politics. It presents an exhaustive account of the predicament of Saudi Arabia's little known Shia community, which is caught in the crossfire between the royal family and the Wahhabis and Saudi Arabia and Iran.' Vikas Kumar, Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107618237
    • length: 292 pages
    • dimensions: 227 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.44kg
    • contains: 31 b/w illus. 1 map
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. Politics of notables
    2. Oil and dissent
    3. Shia Islamism
    4. A decade of confrontation
    5. No more revolution
    6. Marginal recognition
    7. A new Intifada
    Conclusion: the politics of sectarianism.

  • Author

    Toby Matthiesen, University of Cambridge
    Toby Matthiesen is a research fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.


    • Winner of the Bronze Medal, 2015 Washington Institute Book Prize
    • One of Monkey Cage's Best Middle East Political Science Books of 2014

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