Wednesday, February 6, 2013

CIA in Saudi Arabia & Munif's Cities of Salt

From today's BBC story "CIA operating drone base in Saudi Arabia, US media reveal:"
The US Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years. The facility was established to hunt for members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen. A drone flown from there was used in September 2011 to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who was alleged to be AQAP's external operations chief.
I think a good novel for this news story would be one that gives a little history of U.S.-Saudi relations, ideally with some insight into how Saudis have viewed the relationship. Although I have not read Abdelrahman Munif's Cities of Salt (I found the first few pages a little slow and moved on to another book, but I plan on giving it another try), it seems to fit the bill. I hear that if you can have a little patience with the pacing, it's a great read:
...this novel records the encounter between Americans and Arabs in an unnamed Gulf emirate in the 1930s. As oil exploration begins, the destruction of an oasis community amounts to "a breaking off, like death, that nothing and no one could ever heal." The promise inherent in the creation of a city divided into Arab and American sectors provides the novel's most striking revelation: here not merely two cultures, but two ages, meet and stand apart. Alternatively amused and bewildered by the Americans and their technological novelties, the Arabs sense in their accommodation to modernity the betrayal of their own traditions.
Munif is a Saudi national and was raised in Jordan. From what I've read, I imagine the "unnamed gulf emirate" in the novel is largely based on Saudi Arabia.

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