In Conversation: On Inside the New Saudi Arabia

Behind the Kingdom’s Veil: Inside the New Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is a rare look within the walls of one of the world’s most secretive countries […]


In Conversation: On Inside the New Saudi Arabia

Authors:Victor McFarland, Mohamedou Slahi , Susanne Koelbl


Behind the Kingdom’s Veil: Inside the New Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is a rare look within the walls of one of the world’s most secretive countries by Susanne Koelbl, a veteran journalist who lived there. Victor McFarland’s Oil Powers: A History of the U.S. Saudi Alliance examines the deep ties binding the two countries in their close but often troubled alliance. And in Guantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Slahi recounts his 14-year ordeal as a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, during which he was never charged with a crime.

Victor McFarland

Victor McFarland is assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri. His research interests center on energy, the environment, and U.S. relations with the Middle East, with a special focus on Saudi Arabia. Oil Powers: A History of the U.S.-Saudi Alliance (Columbia University Press) is his first book. In it, connecting foreign relations and domestic politics, McFarland challenges the view that the U.S.-Saudi alliance is the inevitable consequence of American energy demand and Saudi Arabia’s huge oil reserves. Oil Powers traces the growth of the alliance through a dense web of political, economic, and social connections that bolstered royal and executive power and the national-security state. McFarland shows how U.S. and Saudi elites collaborated to advance their shared interests against rivals at home and abroad. Facing objections from their own people, Washington and Riyadh chose to shield their partnership from public oversight and accountability. American support empowered the Saudi royal family and helped the kingdom expand its influence across the Middle East, Saudi elites also encouraged a rightward shift in U.S. foreign and economic policy–with profound long-term effects. Oil Powers reveals the role of the U.S.-Saudi alliance the entrenchment of a global order fueled by oil. Odd Arne Westad, author of The Cold War: A World History, note that “The extraordinary relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has influenced both countries, often for the worse. There is no better guide to the origins of this complex alliance than McFarland’s new book. Anyone with an interest in the U.S. role in the Middle East should read it. “

Mohamedou Slahi

Mohamedou Slahi was born in a small town in Mauritania in 1970. He won a scholarship to attend college in Germany and worked there for several years as an engineer. He returned to Mauritania in 2000. The following year, at the behest of the United States, he was detained by Mauritanian authorities and rendered to a prison in Jordan. He was rendered again, first to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and finally, on August 5, 2002, to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was subjected to severe torture. He was cleared and released on October 16th of 2016 and repatriated to his native country of Mauritania. No charges were filed against him during or after this ordeal. Larry Siems is a writer and human rights activist. He is the author of The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program. Detained in his native Mauritania at the behest of the United States, Slahi was eventually taken to the detainee camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in 2002. Until his release in 2016, the United States never charged him with a crime. Three years into his captivity Slahi began a diary, recounting his life before he disappeared into U.S. custody and daily life as a detainee. His diary is not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir — terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious. Published now for the first time, Guantanamo Diary (Back Bay Books) is a document of immense historical importance. Writing in The Washington Post, Deborah Pearlstein noted that “Slahi’s book offers a first-person account of the experience of torture. For that reason alone, the book is necessary reading for those seeking to understand the dangers that Guantánamo’s continued existence poses to Americans in the world.”

Susanne Koelbl

Susanne Koelbl is a journalist and a military and foreign correspondent for the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Her dispatches have covered conflict areas and wars around the world, including the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. She is known for her probing reports from Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. Her book Dark Beloved Country: People and Power in Afghanistan was published in 2009. In her exceptional interviews with state leaders, intelligence-chiefs and Islamic extremists, Koelbl repeatedly challenges the powerful, including the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (wanted for genocide with an international arrest warrant), or the underground Hamas leader Khaled Mashal. Koelbl has excellent contacts in all political camps in the Middle East. She has been travelling to Saudi Arabia since 2011. Most recently she lived in Riyadh during 2018-2019. Saudi Arabia plays a key role in the world, yet few have first-hand knowledge of who lives, suffers, and wields power there. Behind the Kingdom’s Veil: Inside the New Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (Mango) is a deep dive behind the walls of one of the world’s most secretive countries. It’s a place where religious conservatism and strict laws governing women’s freedoms support a single goal-preserving the power of the House of Saud. Chapter-by-chapter the black box that is Saudi Arabia opens. We are eyewitnesses to the inner workings of the new as well as the traditional Saudi Arabia; have breakfast with Royal Highnesses, meet Osama bin Laden’s bomb-making trainer, enter the palaces of secret service chiefs and listen to intimate conversations with women ambivalent about their newly offered freedoms. We also get to know journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered and brutally dismembered in 2018, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), contrasting liberalization of Saudi society with punitive treatment of dissenters. Ahmed Rashid, bestselling author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos, praise dit as ” a marvelous book on the recent developments in Saudi Arabia, a book full of analysis, anecdotes and the tensions generated by the change of geo-politics in the Arabian Gulf. Her access to Saudi officials, princes, shop-keepers and to ordinary women and men struggling with jobs, school and bringing up children is unique because Koelbl lived in Saudi Arabia for some time […] A piercingly powerful book.”

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