About a week ago I heard from Christoph Wilcke, formerly a researcher in Iraq with Christian Aid, where he and his colleagues did important work.
Wilcke now works with Human Rights Watch, studying Saudi Arabia from a base in New York. He proposed a series for openDemocracy on political and democratic prospects in Saudi. Now I'm not for the moment working with oD, I passed on the recommendation (hello? is there anybody home?).
There has been some remarkable journalism on this topic recently, with Bill Law's Saudi Stories.
How accurate and useful was and is the assessment by Robert Baer published in May 2003 (and recently linked near the top of Arts & Letters following the death of King Fahd)?
"If an election were held in Saudi Arabia today...Osama bin Laden would be elected in a landslide—not because the Saudi people want to wash their hands in the blood of the dead of September 11, but simply because bin Laden has dared to do what even the mighty United States of America won't do: stand up to the thieves who rule the country.
Saudi Arabia today is a mess, and it is our mess. We made it the private storage tank for our oil reserves. We reaped the benefits of a steady petroleum supply at a discounted price, and we grabbed at every available Saudi petrodollar. We taught the Saudis exactly what was expected of them. We cannot walk away morally from the consequences of this behavior—and we really can't walk away economically. So we crow about democracy and talk about someday weaning ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, despite the fact that as long as America has been dependent on foreign oil there has never been an honest, sustained effort at the senior governmental level to reduce long-term U.S. petroleum consumption".