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Book Project 

The Quest for Influence: Media Changes and Reform Politics in Saudi Arabia

My book project centers on a key question: In autocracies, where media access is already uneven, how has a significant change in media technology like the Internet affected key political players? I argue that media changes shift the balance of power among political elites differently depending on their existing degree and type of media control. My research reveals that innovative media changes can have profound impacts on intra-elites’ contestation in autocratic contexts that previously had state monopoly of the media.

I demonstrate these claims in an in-depth study of Saudi Arabia. This is a critical case for developing and testing my claims: Saudi Arabia is one of the most digitally connected societies globally in which the role of media in politics is pronounced, yet the case remains largely unexplored and understudied. This heightened Internet connectivity offers me the chance to investigate the effect of a hypothesized cause in a case in which this cause is maximally present. I find that, while the Internet supplied historically marginalized liberal elites unprecedented media access, it disadvantaged conservative elites by displacing the cassette tape: their most powerful media for over three decades. This had a profound effect on policy, as shown through distinctive reforms enacted before and after the Internet. I substantiate these findings with a mixed-method research design that draws on a large corpus of digital and traditional data, including 37 original public petitions, 4,753,910 tweets, and 4,206 policies. 

MAM- Food_for_Thought_9100.jpeg

Mixed media - cassette tapes in wooden bread baking trays by Maha Malluh.


Al-Saeedi, Safa. “The Arab spring: why did the uprisings miss the monarchies?Contemporary Politics (2021): 1-26.

Under Review  


“Resistance to Religious Reforms in the Arab World: Evidence from Egypt and Lebanon”
“Conceptualizing Saudi Arabia's Key Political Players”

Working Papers 

“Falsified Sphere? Internet Effects on Political Expression”
“Digital Media: The Unequalizer Equalizer" 

Select Ongoing Works

"The Rise and Fall of the Islamic Awakening Movement (Al-Sahwa) from a Communication Perspective"

Anonymous Dissidence in Authoritarian Politics,” with Alexandra Siegel (the University of Colorado at Boulder)
“Decline of Religiosity in the Middle East: Causes and Effects,” with
Fatih Serkant Adiguzel (Sabancı University)
“Renegotiating the Social Contract: Taxation in Saudi Arabia,” with
Yasmina Abouzzohour (Princeton University)


All Royal Decrees Issued by the Saudi Government (1953-2020)

Saudi Elites on Twitter: Ideologies and Biographical Information

Saudi Broadcasting Media: Ownership and Circulation (1960-2020)

Political Petitions by Ideological Elites in Saudi Arabia (1990-2020)

Saudi Print Media: Ownership and Circulation (1960-2020) (in progress)

Cassette Tape Lectures and the Sahwa (Islamic Awakening) in Saudi Arabia and Beyond (in progress)

Biographical Information of 700 Influential Religious Preachers in the Arab World in the 20th Century (in progress)

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