Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The revival of tribalism in popular Saudi Arabian culture


Modern Languages & Literatures Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Arts and Humanities


Although mostly discouraged by the political and religious elite of the kingdom, tribalism in Saudi Arabia is alive and well. With the arrival of the internet and social media came a new wave of expressing tribal ties. It was observed that it subsequently affected other parts of social life too. While some still considered tribalism a threat to modernity and civil society many others, mostly younger Saudis used their recently rediscovered tribal identities to call for a new social pact for the entire kingdom. With the advent of internet, satellite television and cell-phones, new avenues of self-representing these identities opened up for the young tribal Saudi. Aspects of tribalism are now expressed in the legal system, marriages, voting behavior, the literature scene and of course in the daily interaction of the young men and women. As such this revival renegotiated age-old generational, judicial, political and social boundaries. In this paper I argue that tribalism is viewed at and has the potential to be the unifying ingredient for a new national Saudi identity, one that reflects traditional heritage and current demographic challenges. I will also explore the dangers that arise from a hierarchical ideology of exclusion and patronage. Furthermore, I will highlight recent developments to illustrate how state and society in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula use tribalism, and how it can sometimes be used against them. The research for this paper is based on anthropological fieldwork (residence, participant observation) in the area, interviews conducted with tribal members and leaders, as well as Saudi officials. Another major forum of tribal expression is through online discussion boards, which serve as uncensored vehicles of tribal self-representation and whose contents have been analyzed with regard to new tribal concepts of identities across political and hierarchical boundaries.

Conference Name

Seventh International Conference on Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa

Conference Location

Ifrane, Morocco

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