Saudi Arabia is a conservative kingdom run by elderly royals, highly deferential to its powerful Sunni religious establishment, and surrounded by more liberal and modernizing countries such as the UAE, Qatar, and Jordan. Unless none of this is true.
Peter Theroux spent nearly 30 years in and out of Saudi Arabia, as a newspaper reporter, translator of Saudi literature, friend and associate of Saudi dissidents—Sunni, Shia, and atheist—and as an intelligence officer analyzing the Arabian Peninsula. He also spent two years at the White House as Director of Persian Gulf Affairs on the National Security Council, in daily contact with the US Embassy in Riyadh and the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington DC. He has also worked in the US embassies in all the countries neighboring the Kingdom, including Iraq and Yemen. A student of Saudi society, his is a case study in how having access to the greatest amount of accurate information does not prevent one from being wrong.
The title of this presentation is taken from the series of novels by the late Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt, which Peter has translated into English. Munif described the title as a metaphor for states that are artificial, colonial creations that would inevitable melt away and dissolve.
Peter Theroux is the author of Sandstorms: Days and Nights in Arabia, Translating LA, and The Strange Disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr, and the translator of a dozen novels from Arabic, including Children of the Alley by Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz and the Cities of Salt trilogy by Abdelrahman Munif. His work has been published in Vanity Fair, National Geographic Magazine, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He served in the US government for over 20 years as an intelligence officer focusing on terrorism and the Middle East.