Migrants and monarchs: regime survival, state transformation and migration politics in Saudi Arabia
Third world quarterly
GB : Routledge
en ligne - p.
migration, Middle East, regime survival, state transformation, labour, Arab Spring
How was the Saudi monarchy able to stave off the Arab Spring? One answer to this question lies in migration politics, which are integral to the regime’s ad hoc survival strategies. An analysis of migration politics, moreover, brings to light longstanding dynamics of state transformation in what remains one of the largest immigration countries in the world. Drawing on discourse analysis, institutional history, and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in state bureaucracies, I explore the critical, albeit under-researched, role of migration politics in political change from the 1991 Gulf crisis to the 2011 uprisings. First, I show that, in times of crisis, Saudi monarchs made migration a central political issue: while maintaining mass immigration into the country, they used immigrants as scapegoats to deflect popular grievances and further individual power-seeking agendas. Secondly, I demonstrate that migration became a policy domain with its own rules, bureaucratic practices, power relations and rationalities – a process designed to impose a state monopoly over migration control. Thirdly, I introduce the notion of ‘migration rent’ and use it to describe the changing social and power relations between migrants, citizens and the state. Finally, I suggest that migration politics are key to understanding both short- and long-term political change.