Kristin Smith Diwan

Senior Resident Scholar, AGSIW

Kristin Smith Diwan is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Her current projects concern generational change, nationalism, and the evolution of Islamism in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Her analysis of Gulf affairs has appeared in many publications, among them Foreign Affairs, Financial Times, and The Washington Post.

Diwan was previously an assistant professor at the American University School of International Service and has held visiting scholar positions at the George Washington University and Georgetown University. From 2013-14 she served as a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council where she published on youth movements and participated in the Strategic Dialogue for a New US-Gulf Partnership.

Diwan received her PhD from Harvard University and holds an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She completed her undergraduate degree at Baylor University in Texas, her home state.

What Do the Latest Parliamentary Elections Mean for Democratic Politics in Kuwait?

On April 15, AGSIW will host a discussion on Kuwait's April 4 parliamentary elections.

The Fluid Gulf: Framing Multicultural Heritage Through Film

On April 11, AGSIW and the Middle East Institute will co-host a discussion on film in the Gulf.

Special Ramadan Screening of Saudi Film “Mandoob”

On April 7, AGSIW and the National Museum of Asian Art co-hosted a screening of the Saudi hit film "Mandoob."

AGSIW x Culture Summit: Channeling the Uncanny in Counter-Futurisms

On March 4, AGSIW convened a session on Gulf Futurism during Culture Summit Abu Dhabi.

2024 Outlook

On January 9, AGSIW hosted a virtual roundtable with its leadership and scholars as they looked ahead and assessed trends likely to shape the Gulf region and U.S. foreign policy during the coming year.

Book Launch: Art in Saudi Arabia: A New Creative Economy?

On January 19, AGSIW hosted a discussion on art in Saudi Arabia.

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Kuwait's New Emir: A Frank Speech Signals a Sharp Change in Direction

Kuwait's new emir, Meshal al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, announces an end to the current populist terms of engagement with the Parliament, which seems to suggest a forceful corrective – and perhaps more domestic strife – to come.

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Saudi Arabia Storms the World of Football

Saudi Arabia's successful bid to host the 2034 World Cup and aggressive recruitment of top players from elite football clubs across Europe mark another audacious play for state-financed entry into global sports.

How Is the Israel-Hamas Conflict Affecting Gulf Arab States and Their Strategic Calculations?

On November 7, AGSIW hosted a discussion on Gulf responses to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Will the Israel-Hamas Conflict Spell the End of Regional Reconciliation?

On October 12, AGSIW hosted a discussion on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

With the Land: Environment and Nature in Contemporary Gulf Art   

AGSIW and Hunna Art will co-host a discussion exploring environment and art.
New date to be announced.

Book Talk – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: Foreign Policy and Strategic Alliances in an Uncertain World

On October 17, AGSIW hosted a discussion on the foreign policies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

BRICS+: Seeking an Alternative World Order? 

On September 26, AGSIW hosted a discussion on the potential expansion of BRICS.

AGSIW Student Open House and Reception

On September 27, AGSIW hosted a student open house and reception, featuring Emirati and Colombian American visual artist Sara Ahli.

A Conversation on Saudi Arabia With F. Gregory Gause, III

On September 14, AGSIW hosted a discussion on Saudi Arabia's recent diplomatic maneuvers.

Book Talk – The Struggle for Supremacy in the Middle East

On July 6, AGSIW hosted a discussion on the historical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Will Kuwait’s Upcoming Elections Help Resolve Its Political Gridlock?

On May 31, AGSIW hosted a discussion on Kuwait's upcoming parliamentary elections.

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New Elections and Frustration Within Kuwait's Elite

Amid an ongoing political standoff and governing malaise, some within Kuwait's elite have challenged the Al Sabah family-led government.

2023 Outlook

AGSIW hosted a virtual private roundtable with its leadership and scholars as they looked ahead and assessed trends likely to shape the Gulf region and U.S. foreign policy during the coming year.

Book Talk – The Huthi Movement in Yemen: Ideology, Ambition, and Security in the Arab Gulf

On January 24, AGSIW hosted a discussion with Bernard Haykel and Joshua Rogers on this new book and the Houthi movement in Yemen.

Petro Diplomacy 2022: Gulf Countries on the Front Line of Energy Security

On October 20 and 21, AGSIW convened its eighth annual Petro Diplomacy conference. 

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Saudi Arabia's New Nationalist Foreign Policy

A more self-assertive Saudi Arabia is taking steps to amplify its role on the global stage, at times in defiance of its U.S. partner. What does this mean for global energy markets and the future of U.S.-Saudi relations?

Making Sense of Kuwait's Parliamentary Election Results: Change or Continued Gridlock?

On October 6, AGSIW hosted a discussion examining the results of Kuwait's recent parliamentary elections.

Book Launch: Kinship, State Formation and Governance in the Arab Gulf States

On Thursday July 7, AGSIW hosted a discussion on Scott Weiner's new publication examining tribe-state relations in the Gulf.

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Kuwait's Constitutional Stand

A sit-in by members of Kuwait's National Assembly was a relatively rare example of a successful targeted political protest to achieve limited political aims, but it is unlikely the good feelings of national unity will last.

State and Culture in Saudi Arabia: Understanding the Moment of Transformation

On April 20, AGSIW hosted a workshop examining the question of state and culture in Saudi Arabia.

A New “Founding Day” and the Transformation of Saudi Society 

On April 26, AGSIW hosted a discussion examining the establishment of Saudi Arabia's new national narrative.

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Tourism Ambitions Transform Saudi Arabia

The global opening and new embrace of arts and entertainment are indicative of broader trends as the kingdom navigates its "post-oil" future.

2022 Outlook

AGSIW's leadership and scholars assessed trends likely to shape the Gulf region and U.S. foreign policy in 2022.

Roundtable With Bernard Haykel

On November 16, AGSIW hosted a discussion with Bernard Haykel on the state of U.S.-Saudi relations and the latest social, political, and economic developments underway in Saudi Arabia.

Book Launch – Tribalism and Political Power in the Gulf: State-Building and National Identity in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE

On December 1, AGSIW hosted a discussion examining the roles that tribes play in popular participation in government and policymaking in the Gulf.

What to Expect From Qatar's First Legislative Elections

On September 30, AGSIW hosted a discussion ahead of Qatar's first legislative elections.

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Electoral Law Sparks Debate Over Qatari Citizenship and Political Rights

While Qatar’s electoral rules may produce a more malleable legislative body, they pose the risk of upending the national unity forged over the course of Qatar’s dispute with its neighboring states.

Sectarian Identities and the Rise of Nationalism in the Middle East

On June 9, AGSIW and SEPAD hosted a discussion examining sectarianism and nationalism in the Middle East.

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Abraham Accords Face Early Test

Israeli expansionism in East Jerusalem and the attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque prompt sharp condemnation and popular support for Palestinians from Gulf signatories to the Abraham Accords.

The Gulf Cooperation Council at 40

On May 27, AGSIW hosted a discussion examining the Gulf Cooperation Council's impact on its member states, the Gulf, and international relations, 40 years after its founding.

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Keep the Faith: Mohammed bin Salman’s Message to Saudis

On April 27, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sat down for a television interview five years after the announcement of Vision 2030.

Developments in Qatar and Kuwait

On April 6, AGSIW hosted a dial-in briefing on recent developments in Qatar and Kuwait.

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All the Kings’ Sons

Recent leadership transitions in the Gulf monarchies are crystallizing a trend toward direct lineage and away from fraternal succession, consolidating decision making and centralizing state power.

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U.S.-Saudi Relations: How To Work With, and Rein In, Mohammed bin Salman

Kristin Smith Diwan sat down with F. Gregory Gause III to discuss his March 30 piece for Foreign Affairs, “The United States Is the Last Check on MBS’s Power.”

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The Khashoggi Case in Biden’s Strategy and U.S. Policy Direction

The Biden administration preserves space for statecraft, yet honors Khashoggi’s memory by punishing activity against Saudi dissidents abroad.

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Why the Saudis Ended the Dispute With Qatar

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s youth ambitions are behind the entry – and exit – from the Qatar standoff.

2021 Outlook

AGSIW hosted a virtual private roundtable with its leadership and scholars as they looked ahead to assess trends likely to shape the Gulf region during the coming year.

Oman One Year On

On January 12, AGSIW hosted a panel analyzing the challenges facing, and the strategic responses of, Oman's new sultan.

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Kuwaitis Vote for Change

Kuwait’s elections resulted in a nearly two-thirds turnover in the National Assembly. Still any reform program hinges on the selection of the leadership of Parliament and new government and their ability to forge a common national agenda.

Saudi Arabia and the G-20

AGSIW hosted a virtual private roundtable to discuss Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy and attract investments, its presidency of the G-20, recommendations of the T20 group of think tanks, and the outcomes of this year’s G-20 meeting.

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Death of Bahrain’s Prime Minister Promotes Reformer, But Perhaps Not Reforms

The death of the traditional and uncompromising Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa clears the way for the reformist crown prince to head the government. Still, state and financial security will continue to top Bahrain’s priorities.

Oman After Qaboos

AGSIW hosted a private discussion on the future of Oman following the passing of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Succession in Kuwait

The recent health issues of Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah have revived concerns about succession in Kuwait.

Kuwait After Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah

On October 7, AGSIW hosted a virtual panel discussion on the future of Kuwait's leadership.

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Kuwait’s Patient Statesman

The death of Kuwait’s emir, Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, marks the passage of a seasoned diplomat, cunning politician, and valued humanitarian. Will his successor preserve Kuwait’s democratic political culture and independent foreign policy?

The Future of U.S.-Saudi Relations

On August 27, AGSIW hosted a virtual roundtable on the future of U.S.-Saudi relations.

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Public Debate Over the Abraham Accords Reflects Range of Views on Normalization in the Gulf

While political narratives on Israel are shifting under the influence of some determined state leaders, resistance to normalization remains across Gulf societies.

After the Pandemic: The Future of Higher Education in the Gulf

On August 20, AGSIW hosted a virtual panel discussion examining the role of higher education in the development of Gulf Arab states and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected these institutions.

Key Elements of Saudi Social Transformation Post-Coronavirus

On August 11, AGSIW partnered with the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies to host a virtual panel discussion examining social reform programs in Saudi Arabia.

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Populism on the Rise in Kuwait as Elections Loom

Under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic and the political imperatives of upcoming elections, populism is raging in Kuwait. It colors public discourse high and low, from elite campaigns to root out corruption to grassroot demands to expel guest workers.

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Max Weber in Arabia: Saudi’s Character Enrichment Program

As the Saudi government manages the fallout from collapsing oil revenue, it will be seeking greater contributions from the Saudi public. A little-known program to instill the productive values of entrepreneurship, hard work, and optimism may have found its moment.

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The Big Gamble of Mohammed bin Salman – and Saudi Arabia

Aggressive moves both at home and in global oil markets demonstrate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s control over decision making, with the Saudi public invested as never before.

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Mark C. Thompson on the Identity of Saudi Male Youth

Kristin Smith Diwan sat down with Mark C. Thompson to discuss his research on the generational shift in attitudes of Saudi men.

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Oman’s New Sultan Unlikely to Pursue Qaboos’ Monopoly of Power

Sultan Haitham will need to balance powerful interests while engaging all parties, especially as he tackles economic policy.

Young and Male: Identity and Politics in Saudi Arabia

AGSIW hosted Mark Thompson, professor and author of "Being Young, Male and Saudi: Identity and Politics in a Globalized Kingdom," for a discussion of his work on the generational shift in attitudes of Saudi men.

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U.S-Iranian Tensions: The Gulf Arab States

Kristin Smith Diwan and Hussein Ibish discuss the role for the Gulf Arab states in de-escalating tensions between Iran and the United States.

2020 Vision: AGSIW Assesses Threats and Opportunities in the Gulf

On January 8, AGSIW hosted a conversation considering the trends likely to shape the Gulf region in 2020.

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Kuwait Shakes Up Its Government amid Charges of Corruption

Kuwait’s government resigns amid charges of embezzlement, as both the Parliament and ruling family prepare for impending elections – and a looming succession.

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Bahrain’s Royal Family Adjusts for the Future

The recent elevation of Bahrain’s young prince, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, to national security advisor is the latest indication of maneuvers to secure the future hierarchy of the monarchy.

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Saudi Ambition Confronts New Vulnerability

Saudi Vision 2030 champions national pride and a new economy of tourism and technology. But a direct hit on the kingdom’s central oil processing plant at Abqaiq ruthlessly reveals: As yet, the kingdom’s future still depends on allies, and oil.

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The Manama Workshop and the Course of Normalization in the Gulf

The “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain may have been less about Palestinian prosperity and more about drawing Arab, especially Gulf, countries into the Middle East peace process – and into deeper normalization with Israel.

Cities and Belonging in the Gulf Arab States

On July 24, AGSIW hosted a panel discussion examining the growth of the modern Gulf Arab city.

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In a Region Beset by Zero-Sum Conflicts, Oman Remains Open to All

Avoiding provocation of international powers and regional neighbors, Oman remains determined to make its connections to all sides a strategic asset.

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Saudi Arabia’s New Security State Reflected in Treatment and Trial of Women Activists

The case of the detained women activists in Saudi Arabia illustrates shifting power dynamics in the kingdom as King Salman has centralized control in the hands of the crown prince, complicating an already fraught political environment for intellectuals and activists.

Kuwait: Between Mediation and Maximum Pressure

AGSIW hosted a conversation examining Kuwait's domestic political landscape and regional relations.

Roundtable Discussion With Nayef Al-Hajraf, Minister of Finance of Kuwait

Nayef Al-Hajraf, minister of finance of Kuwait, discussed the challenges and opportunities in this era of economic reform with a focus on Kuwait Vision 2035.

Change from the Bottom Up: Art, Society, and Southern Saudi Arabia

In this presentation, Sean Foley draws on his extensive research in Asir, Najran, and Jizan to trace the rise of the Saudi contemporary artistic movement while explaining what it tells us about the kingdom’s society in the 21st century.

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The Pope’s Visit and Emirati Soft Power

Pope Francis' historic visit to the UAE, the first by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula, represents the most high-profile of a series of initiatives positioning the UAE as a champion of interfaith dialogue, moderation, and pluralism.

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Saudi Arabia Reassigns Roles within a More Centralized Monarchy

As Saudi Arabia moves toward more centralized authority over national security and intelligence functions, will these measures serve to check or further empower the crown prince?

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Bahrain’s Carefully Managed Elections Remake Parliament

On November 24 and December 1 Bahrain held elections for the lower house of Parliament and municipal councils. The new members – absent representation by once-influential opposition societies and dominated by political independents and newcomers – will face a strenuous test with austerity measures looming.

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MbS – with an Assist from the King – Shores up Support at Home

In the wake of the Khashoggi affair, Saudi Arabia's King Salman is rallying royals and courting the public on behalf of his embattled son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Will this injection of traditional prestige and patronage reassure MbS’s skeptics at home and abroad?

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The Geoeconomics of Reconstruction in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen has exacted a disastrous toll on the country. This paper considers the outside forces in the conflict, seeking to elucidate who they are, what the nature is of their involvement, and what their converging and conflicting interests mean for reconstruction.

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Mohammed bin Salman’s Media Obsession – and What it Means for Dissent

Control over the media is central to the Saudi crown prince’s transformation program – and to Jamal Khashoggi’s death.

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Mohammed bin Salman’s Short Visit to Kuwait

Kuwait has made the strategic decision to deepen bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia, but navigating this critical relationship will be a challenge for the small emirate.

Understanding Youth and Women’s Employment in Saudi Arabia

Alessandra L. González shared insights from her research on Saudi women’s employment in the kingdom.

Discussion and Screening: New Currents in Saudi Cinema

Saudi filmmakers Meshal Al Jaser and Ali Al Sumayin joined Kristin Smith Diwan to talk about and screen their work, and discuss how social media and other new technologies are influencing the future of film and media production in the Gulf.

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The GCC is Becoming More – and Less – than the Sum of Its Parts

As the United States and its Gulf partners intensify deliberations toward convening a U.S.-Gulf summit once scheduled for May, all parties are adjusting to new objectives and a shifting strategic landscape.

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Saudi Arabia Sets Goals for Football On and Off the Pitch

New Saudi leadership has high hopes for economic and political payoffs tied to a heightened priority on football.

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Internal Political Realignment Targets Saudi Women Activists

On June 24, Saudi women will be allowed to operate their own cars, ending the ban on women driving and effecting a momentous change in the conservative kingdom.

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Saudi Nationalism Raises Hopes of Greater Shia Inclusion

The Saudi leadership’s public rejection of the Sunni political revival movement known as the Sahwa has been accompanied by signs of an incipient opening to Shia communities.

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Let Me Entertain You: Saudi Arabia’s New Enthusiasm for Fun

Social outings with mixed genders, open cinemas, and performing arts represent a dramatic reversal from the past when Saudis pursued their amusements in private or abroad. What explains the government’s new enthusiasm for fun?

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Jerusalem Declaration Unites – and Divides – the Gulf

The decision by U.S. President Donald J. Trump to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel elicited universal condemnation from Gulf Arab states.

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Kuwait Struggles for Unity at Home and in the Region

Kuwait’s relatively open politics and careful balancing of societal constituencies – Sunni and Shia, liberals and Islamists – look anomalous in today’s maximalist Gulf, and increasingly under threat.

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Media, Youth, and the New Saudi Arabia

The stunning arrest of dozens of prominent princes, ministers, and businessmen once thought untouchable, and indications of a broadening campaign against corruption, raise fundamental questions about the future direction of Saudi Arabia.

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Qatar Crisis Stirs Islamic Debates

One of the key aspects of the ongoing Gulf crisis, which pits a quartet of countries composed of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar, is the attempt to denounce Qatar and its leadership over its support of Islamist activist and jihadist networks.

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The New Rules of Monarchy in the Gulf

This summer has seen significant developments in the Arabian Peninsula, from the embargo placed on Qatar by four Arab countries, to the change in succession in Saudi Arabia.

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Mohammed bin Salman is the Future of Saudi Arabia

In analyzing ruling family politics in the Gulf, one must rely upon what one can see.

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Saudi Leadership and Qatar Media

The past week has witnessed an unprecedented escalation of tensions among the Gulf Cooperation Council states, culminating with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severing ties with Qatar.

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A Saudi Course Correction

On April 25 the Saudi government reached the one-year mark since the launch of its ambitious program of governmental reform, Saudi Vision 2030.

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Kuwait’s Snap Parliamentary Elections Bring Return of the Opposition

On November 26, Kuwait held parliamentary elections, its fourth in just five years, in a vote that marked the return of the opposition after nearly four years of electoral boycotts.

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Saudi Films Challenge Societal Norms at Home, Open Doors Abroad

As the state toys with a cultural opening at home, it is beginning to embrace the power of the arts to improve the country’s image abroad.

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Between Tribe and Country: Security Challenges Test Saudi Social Cohesion

On July 4, during the holy month of Ramadan, a suicide bomber approached one of the most important sites of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in the city of Medina.

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JASTA Lights Up Saudi Social Media

Saudi State and Society React to JASTA Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf states were quick to react to the passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) by the U.S.

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Who Is Sunni?: Chechnya Islamic Conference Opens Window on Intra-Faith Rivalry

In a week filled with news stories on the mounting theological-political spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the intra-Sunni geopolitical rivalry is heating up as well.

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Gulf Islamists Praise Erdogan Victory, Prophesy Revival of the Ummah

The Turkish government’s defeat of an attempted military coup last month has captivated Islamists across the Middle East, who found relief, and a bit of redemption, in the popular mobilization against the rebellious officers.

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Bahrain’s New Order 

The political news emanating from the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain has come fast and frequent this summer, with a series of actions taken by the courts, Parliament, and security forces effectively reshaping the formal political landscape of the country.

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A Ramadan Talk Show Spurs Religious Debate in Saudi Arabia

As Saudi Arabia embarks on Vision 2030, its comprehensive plan to confront oil dependence and meet the challenges of economic diversification and social change, there are signs that the leadership is opening space for much-needed religious debate.

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Parliamentary Boycotts in Kuwait and Bahrain Cost Opposition

Citizens of the Gulf’s leading parliamentary monarchies have access to a pressure point that other Gulf citizens do not: If the ruling family-led executive is refusing reforms or taking unilateral political actions, they may withhold their participation in elections.

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National Identity and National Projects in the Arab Gulf States

In recent years, Gulf states have undertaken steps to promote national identity and inculcate a stronger sense of national belonging that ties citizens to the state and its leadership.

The End of the U.S.-Saudi Special Relationship?

The United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East for decades.

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Youth Appeal of Saudi Vision 2030

This post is part of an AGSIW series on Saudi Vision 2030, a sweeping set of programs and reforms adopted by the Saudi government to be implemented by 2030.

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Waiting Out Obama

It is no secret that the Saudi and wider Gulf leadership are not fans of U.S. President Barack Obama. Complaints range from the personal – that he hasn’t built strong ties to Gulf monarchs – to the strategic – that he has neither backed his Gulf partners nor backed up his own promises, most notably in Syria.

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Bahrain Faces Austerity, Without Protest

As the Gulf states enter a new era of lower oil prices, Bahrain faces the most difficult test.

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Gulf States Struggle to Achieve Goals in Yemen's War

March 26 will mark one year since the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes in Yemen at the invitation of the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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The ‘Third Image’ in Islamist Politics

Since at least the 1990s, Islamists have felt the pull of domestic politics as semi-authoritarian states opened up room for Islamist parties or proto-parties in national parliaments and structured national dialogues.

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Soldiers and the Nation

On September 4, Emirati and other Gulf nationals were met by the news that 60 soldiers from the Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen had been killed in a single missile strike launched by Houthi rebels.

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The (Limited) Rehabilitation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf

Faced with the dual challenge of confronting an Iran emerging from under the shadow of international sanctions and an “Islamic state” solidifying on their borders, several Gulf states are reconciling their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and other activist Sunni Islamist movements.

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From Parliament to Prison: Leading Gulf Opposition Politicians Sentenced

While international attention last week turned to the confirmation of the death penalty for former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, some high profile convictions were handed down in the Arab Gulf states as well.