Nationalism has been, and is, on the rise, in Saudi Arabia. A new nationalism in the country has been transforming domestic politics and foreign policy. The main reason for turning over this new leaf is to expedite the rise of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and back his reform agenda. Bin Salman took to the throne in 2015, and since then, nationalism changed along with the shift in royalty. Author for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Eman Alhussein, states that for decades, “nationalism as an ideology was incompatible with the Kingdom’s dominant religious identity. This identity cemented a sense of unity for the country while legitimising the government through a narrative in which clerics emphasised adherence to the ruler.” Preceding rulers were hesitant in promoting nationalism as they thought it would raise questions about the government’s responsibility and counter Saudia Arabia’s absolute monarchy structure in turn.
Today, Saudi Arabia has developed a new nationalism revolving around and aiming for the rise of younger leadership and to reinforce a radical reform program to return Saudi Arabia back to “moderate Islam” as the Prince likes to phrase it. The influence of Mohammed bin Salman has helped young Saudis, making up almost 51% of the population, who “do not relate to the long-dominant religious atmosphere.” So far, the new nationalism has proven successful, although, loyalty of the citizens has been put to the test. The new approach to nationalism revolves a great deal around balance: balance of the state, religion, the citizens, and nationalism itself. Saudi Arabia has a very diverse population regarding ethnicity and has always been a hindrance in the formation of a unified “sense of national belonging”.
As humans, we tend to want to feel as though we belong to a group, and a strong presence of nationalism aids in that. Mohammed bin Salman has attempted to instill Saudi pride in its citizens by such acts as making it a “point of visiting remote and picturesque sites in the Kingdom, and of making direct links to the core constituencies he is cultivating. The undertakings not only generated funds but also directed the population to examine their potential and capabilities, all with the aim of promoting a sense of pride.” Loyal citizens to the state and country came out of the woodworks because of this.
Aggressive Saudis have taken to the media, which has helped nationalism spread on a wider platform. While this can be viewed as a positive way for Saudis to make their voices heard, writers England and Omran from the Financial Times stated its faults, insinuating that “in an environment where even the hint of dissent can lead to jail, some fear that being called out on social media for the mere appearance of not displaying sufficient loyalty to Prince Mohammed can cost them their reputation and their jobs — even their freedom.” People have been marked as “traitors” for even just assuming to be against the government, and with social media involved, the backlash can be and has been detrimental to some. Anything posted on the internet can eventually be found, and information can be dug up just to create a target towards someone if they are suspected of disrespecting and not supporting the Saudi government. Going hand in hand with nationalism, the new narrative for Saudi Arabia is one that is populist.
The media is directly linked to the rise in nationalism for Saudi Arabia. With the newer rise to power, the plan to inspire unity was sure to change slightly. Time has only proven that with Mohammed bin Salman in authority, his power has led to and resulted in hyper-nationalism. Combined with the internet and passionate citizens, nationalism has been destructive in some ways, and has villainized those who do not support the Saudi government fully. By extension, the new plan to instill nationalism in Saudis has led to hyper-nationalism today.