Cultural Poverty in the Kingdom of Oil: Why Saudi Arabia Wants Yemen Dead

To apply for this project, please submit your resume and cover letter via an Expression of Interest Form.
Faculty Member's Name Nalini Persram
Faculty Member's Email Address* persramn@yorku.ca
Faculty Member's Primary Academic unit: Department of Social Science
Project Title Cultural Poverty in the Kingdom of Oil: Why Saudi Arabia Wants Yemen Dead
Description of Research Project
This project focuses on a neglected aspect of the Saudi-led attack on Yemen. The dominant accounts have focused on factors related to geostrategy, political parties, historical animosities (internationally, tribally and domestically), political economy and terrorism. So far 17 million Yemenis (over half the population) are food insecure & require urgent humanitarian assistance due to the Saudi coalitions blocking of the main port for such imports at Hodeidah. Although this calculated assault on the people of Yemen has finally started to hit the headlines in the Western media, the question that must be asked is: how could such aggression possibly be justified? The task of this project is to look at the security, or the lack of it, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in terms of cultural identity.

Saudi society is relatively new, the current KSA formerly being the region called Hijaz which was made up of mainly nomadic Bedouin tribes and one main urban center, Mecca. Wahhabism, the official branch of Islam of the KSA is considered extremist for its belief in an unquestionable obedience to the political ruler and violent jihadism. Zaydism, the religious sect of Islam associated with the Hashemite clan (making up 20% of Yemen’s population) adheres to the notion of ijtihad "Independent reasoning." The Houthis, against whom the Saudis launched their attack on Yemen in 2015 are Hashemite; they had defeated the Saudis in the 2009 war begun by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis under virtually the same political conditions as the current war. The Houthi threat to the KSA also relates to the Houthis’ belief that the right to authority belongs only to Hashemites, which therefore gives them the right to be the sole authority culturally, socially, and politically in Yemen. Yemen is considered by Arabs to be their birthplace. Rich in social, cultural and material (archaeologically and architecturally) history, (and suffering from agricultural self-neglect) it stands in stark contrast to the KSA’s oil and migrant worker based society. What the former lacks in petro-dollars the latter lacks in any distinct culture. Yemen has existed in different political forms for three thousand years; the KSA is less than a hundred years old and its oil producing days are coming to a visible end. Is this why the state has pressured Saudis to plot or be creative in genealogical relation to prominent Arabian tribes? 

The project’s hypothesis is that Saudi Arabia is intimidated by Yemen the poorest country in the Arab world. This is not limited to the political and the military but extends to social, cultural and material and ancient history, and to the practice of independent thinking when it comes to interpretation of the Qura’n. Research will seek to determine the viability of this idea by looking at the self-perception of Saudis, and the perception of the KSA and Yemen by Arabs in general. Is it the case that if the KSA cannot have deep culture that Yemen should not either and thus be targets of social and cultural genocide?

Undergraduate Student Responsibilities
To produce results according to the professor's guidelines and to work independently;
To speak freely and ask questions when necessary;
To produce reports, summaries etc. of the research when requested;
To conduct research using electronic databases and other kinds of sources on the topics outlined in the summary;
To produce bibliographies properly formatted;
To seek out unusual or hard to find publications related to the topic.
Qualifications Required
Ability to:
think creatively and critically;
conduct research efficiently and in a timely manner.

To have taken a class with Dr Persram, received an A, and developed a good rapport with her including uninhibited and polite modes of communication.
To have demonstrated an interesting or unique way of looking at problematics pertaining to social, political, cultural and critical discourses.