The Persian Gulf has the potential, as do few other regions, to disturb the global economy, for the world needs its oil. Despite this worldwide interest in the area, solid analytic scholarship on the social and political dynamics of Gulf societies is lacking, and for a simple reason: Gulf governments do everything in their power to impede such scholarship. This magnifies the interest in what scholars are able to find out, especially regarding Saudi Arabia, the oil superpower that has one of the most closed societies in the world.
Mai Yamani, an able scholar and daughter of the former Saudi oil minister, provides some of the most insightful analyses. Yet she publishes little, which makes her thirteen-page essay in this slim volume all the more important. It is easy to underestimate her contribution. For instance, her numbers on Saudis in the various levels of schooling may seem mundane, but they are exactly the sort of information the Saudi government holds close.
Most of the book's eight other essays are of but passing interest. Raad Alkadiri presents the standard complaints from the Saddam-is-not-really-a-problem crowd about sanctions on Iraq. Gary Sick forecasts that Washington will reduce its military presence in the Gulf in favor of constructing a regional security alliance—a forecast Operation Desert Fox and the subsequent bombings have proven 180 degrees wrong. More useful are an interesting history of the United Arab Emigrates oil industry by David Heard, an analysis of Iran's relations with Central Asia by Edmud Herzig, and a summary of forces shaping the world oil outlook by John Mitchell.