Article on Saudi Municipal Elections in 1950s/60s


Centre–Periphery Relations and the Emergence of a Public Sphere in Saudi Arabia: The Municipal Elections in the Eastern Province, 1954–1960‘ in: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2014).


This article examines the introduction of municipal elections in Saudi Arabia during the reign of King Saʿud. The elections from 1954 to the early 1960s constituted important political arenas that have hitherto been overlooked in scholarship on Saudi Arabia. Grievances and political aspirations of the Saudi population were publicly voiced during these elections, which coincided with an emerging radical press and a labour movement at the ARAMCO oil company. Though these elections were limited in scope, marred by procedural flaws and ultimately failed on the institutional level, they nevertheless had a lasting impact on people in the Eastern Province―especially the Shia― and their subsequent political mobilisation outside state structures. As such the municipal elections represent a failed attempt to co-opt local elites and to broaden the popular base of the centre in the periphery. The failure of the municipal elections contributed to the tense relationship between the Saudi centre and the peripheries, which culminated in the 1979 uprising in the Eastern Province.