Saudi First: How hyper-nationalism is transforming Saudi Arabia

Press release


Saudi First: How hyper-nationalism

is transforming Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabia is embracing a new nationalism that is transforming domestic politics and the country’s foreign policy
  • The state is actively nurturing this ideology to entrench the new leadership’s hold on power and national vision, while radically reducing the influence of the long-dominant religious establishment
  • The new approach has decreased the space for political freedom and intellectual debate. It has also complicated international engagement with Riyadh
  • The sustainability of the Kingdom’s new approach will in large part depend on whether the leadership delivers on its economic promises

A new hyper-nationalism is on the rise in Saudi Arabia, with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, using this ideology to speed his rise to power and cement his reform agenda.

“Saudi First: How hyper-nationalism is transforming Saudi Arabia,” (LINK), a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations’ visiting fellow Eman Alhussein, considers the nature and impact of this dynamic.

The paper assesses how the Saudi state is carefully instrumentalising this new nationalism, promoting a perception of rupture to lock in the support of young Saudis and reduce the strength of opposing forces, including the long dominant religious establishment. The report highlights the manner in which nationalism is being used to advance radical internal reform, but also makes clear that it is simultaneously being mobilised to close down the space for political debate.

For Europeans seeking to understand the enormous changes underway in the Kingdom, it is critical to understand the nature of this new guiding ideology. Alhussein argues that Europeans need to remain active, albeit cautious, partners with the Kingdom. Given wider challenges the country’s national project needs to succeed in its transformational aspirations, while its worst tendencies need to be moderated, an outcome that Europeans should look to actively promote.


Media enquiries:

For comments and interview requests, please contact ECFR’s communications director, Ana Ramic, at [email protected]. T: +49 (0)30 3250510-27 M: +49 (0)151 65114216; ECFR’s communications team at [email protected].

About the author:

Eman Alhussein is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Her research focuses on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. Alhussein was previously a research fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She holds an MA in Gulf Studies from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. She is currently based in Oslo, Norway.

About ECFR:

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is a pan-European think-tank that aims to conduct cutting-edge independent research in pursuit of a coherent, effective, and values-based European foreign policy.

With a network of offices in seven European capitals, over 60 staff from more than 25 different countries and a team of associated researchers in the EU 28 member states, ECFR is uniquely placed to provide pan-European perspectives on the biggest strategic challenges and choices confronting Europeans today. ECFR is an independent charity and funded from a variety of sources. For more details, please visit:  

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This report, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

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