Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Michael Herb

Second Advisor

Andrew Wedeman

Third Advisor

Charles Hankla


The problem of ‘White Land’ (undeveloped urban land that is temporarily withheld from the market to increase land prices) emerged in Saudi Arabia as an unintended consequence of a survival strategy of land distribution to elites. Unfortunately, such a situation has become a daunting problem that kept the citizens of the kingdom remain unable to address their housing needs given ever-rising prices. To the contrary, despite its political, social and economic similarities, we do not witness citizens of the neighboring country of Oman suffering from the unaffordability of the housing market in their country. What does explain the variation in these two countries? In this dissertation, I argue that the prevalence of ‘White Land’ and the obstacles it poses to Saudi Arabia is an unintended outcome of a historical survival strategy to distribute land to the newly created elites. Saudi Arabia replaced its old established elites which had a considerable economic power with new ones that lack such an economic base. Such a historic decision by the government, and its land distribution strategy, resulted in the new elites’ domination of the real estate market to enrich themselves, which in turn put the greater citizens of the kingdom at risk. On the other hand, however, the old established Omani elites have not been replaced, which points to the fact that the Omani government did not face similar obstacles like what we see in Saudi Arabia. In this project, I explain that because the Omani elites’ economic base is not only dependent on land speculation, the impact on the housing market and the citizens’ ability to afford them has been very much minimal. Therefore, using this comparative case study, the dissertation further assesses why the Saudi government is unable to come up with a working policy to address the housing crisis. In arguing as well as explaining such a question, I have utilized case studies of the two countries using the comparative method and interviews that I conducted throughout my fieldwork in the two countries.