Workshop 1 / GRM 2024
The Dimensions of Saudi Arabia’s Soft Power


Twenty-first century Saudi Arabia is generally viewed in terms of its rulers, religion, and mineral resources. In addition, when it comes to international relations, the Kingdom is frequently categorized by its ‘oil for security’ relationship with the United States and/or similar bilateral ‘high political’ relationships with other states such as China, France, and the United Kingdom. Yet, away from the ‘hard power’ politics of Saudi Arabia’s traditional and longstanding international relations, the Kingdom is witnessing the development and expansion of its ‘soft power’ profile. Currently, according to the Global Soft Power Index 2020, which ranks the world’s top 60 soft power nations from a score out of one hundred, Saudi Arabia is placed 26 with a score of 41.9. Yet, due to the extraordinary transformations witnessed in the Kingdom since the launch of Saudi Vision 2030 in April 2016, this is likely to change for the better. Already the arts and cultural scenes in Saudi Arabia have expanded exponentially, and the same is true of sports, entertainment, tourism, and related events and/or activities such as Riyadh Season 2021. Significantly, Saudi Arabia’s predominantly youthful and well-educated population (two thirds of the populace comprises youth or children) has, by and large, embraced the opportunity to participate in these areas, thereby increasing the likelihood that the Kingdom’s soft power ranking will rise in the future. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the rapid creation and introduction of highly effective technology such as the ubiquitous Tawakkalna application has provided the Kingdom with a global health platform; indeed, other countries, societies and governments could learn from Saudi Arabia’s effective pandemic experience. We should also not forget the Kingdom’s more traditional manifestations and areas of soft power such as religion; as exemplified by Hajj and Umrah, as well as the Kingdom’s diplomatic outreach initiatives. That said it is important to bear in mind that Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a transition that impacts and affects all aspects of everyday life in the Kingdom. A transition many Saudis find stimulating and exciting, but sometimes causes apprehension due to the effect of soft power initiatives on Saudi Arabia’s primary identity narratives, namely family and Islam. Therefore, it sees timely, and necessary, to examine the dimensions, development, and expansion of Saudi Arabia’s soft power profile. For this reason, our workshop will try to reach a 1 better and more balanced understanding of what constitutes soft power in Saudi Arabia, why it is important to national development, its impact on the lives of Saudis (whether positive or negative), and how an increased ‘soft power profile’ could change some of the persistent stereotypes that cling to the Kingdom’s image, especially in the West. Drawing on the comparative experience of academics, researchers, policy makers and practitioners with knowledge and experience of soft power development and expansion in a) Saudi Arabia, b) the region c) relevant expertise in soft power analysis, formulation and implementation and d) from a theoretical soft power perspective, the workshop will analyze the factors that contribute or constrain the Kingdom’s soft power profile. We envisage that academics and practitioners would be drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and institutions (Saudi and non-Saudi) with the aim of not only comparing and capturing experiences, but also seeking ways in which to comprehend what constitutes soft power in Saudi Arabia. 

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Dr. Neil


Associate Fellow -
Chatham House - Middle East & North Africa Programme

Dr. Mark

C Thompson

Senior Research Fellow -
King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies


Smith Diwan

Senior Resident Scholar, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Washington, D.C. Adjunct Professorial Lecturer,
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

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