Desert Geopolitics: Arizona, Arabia, and an Arid-Lands Response to the Territorial Trap
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 41, Number 1, May 2021
- pp. 88-105
- Additional Information
In 2014 the largest dairy company in the Middle East, Almarai, purchased a farm near Vicksburg, Arizona, to grow alfalfa as feed for cattle in Saudi Arabia. Almarai is headquartered at Al Kharj farms, just outside of Riyadh, where it has a herd of more than 93,000 milk cows. Given that dairy and alfalfa farms both require an immense amount of water to maintain, what explains these developments in the deserts of Arizona and Arabia? The answers are historical and contemporary, demanding an approach to "desert geopolitics" that explains how environmental and political narratives bind experts across space and time. As a study in political geography and environmental history, this article uncovers a geopolitics of connection that has long linked the US Southwest and the Middle East, as well as the interlocking imperial visions advanced in their deserts. To understand these arid entanglements, I show how Almarai's purchase of the Vicksburg farm is part of a genealogy of exchanges between Saudi Arabia and Arizona that dates to the early 1940s. The history of Al Kharj and the decades-long agricultural connections between Arizona and Saudi Arabia sheds light on how specific actors imagine the "desert" as a naturalized site of scarcity, but also of opportunity to build politically and economically useful bridges between the two regions.