As we look back to the tedious times Saudi citizens have been through in the past starting from the early eighties, it is clear to see that we have come a long way and made great strides all across the board especially in terms of the many social restrictions that have been lifted. At the time, Saudi Arabia was plagued by an oppressive group whose job was to terrorize, repress and deprive people of their freedoms.
They enforced their arbitrary repression and sought to dominate and strip the power away from the state and its institutions. These repressive practices distorted the image of Saudi Arabia and led cultured societies and media outlets all over this vast world to look down on its people.
Since the beginning of this decade, Saudi Arabia has taken extraordinary leaps and made a series of unprecedented social reforms that are nothing short of revolutionary. As an individual who had to live through those grueling times, I am utterly elated to witness this commendable shift towards openness, tolerance, coexistence, and modernization. What is truly surprising is not the fact that we have reached this stage, what is remarkably impressive is that we have made these developments and achievements in such a short period of time. Within record time, Saudi Arabia has managed to embark on one of the most monumental development journeys the world has ever seen.
As I roamed the streets of Riyadh with my family last night, I was bombarded with memories of a bleak past. I was delighted to see movie theaters opening their doors to receive people to watch the latest films on the big screen, and women wandering around shopping malls without restraint or being forced to cover their faces. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my children discuss the rich array of activities and events that the Entertainment Authority had organized, including concerts by local, Arab and international singers, not to mention the boom in the tourism sector, welcoming foreigners of all nationalities and religions.
Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that one day we will see our beloved nation in this light. It seems that all we needed to reach this level of progress was a clear vision accompanied by wise leadership and firm unwavering resolve. The people of Saudi Arabia, both men and women, have demonstrated their capacity for change and growth especially under the right leadership.
Contrary to the baseless prophecies of those who hold nothing but malice and envy towards our nation, the Saudi people from various regions and sects have never been more united in support of their leadership than they are today. Within a few years, a relatively short time span, the Saudi society has profoundly transformed into an ordinary well-adjusted society at peace with itself and the rest of the world, moving rapidly and steadily towards development and modernization.
In this context, it is important to emphasize that what the Kingdom has achieved during the past few years is not merely restricted to far-reaching management reforms and healthy socio-cultural developments, Saudi Arabia is also witnessing tangible economic prosperity and progress brought forth by the increase in non-oil revenues and non-oil GDP, which will free Saudi Arabia’s economy in the foreseeable future from the clutches of the endless fluctuations in oil prices.
This is in addition to doubling the size of the Public Investment Fund from SAR 560 billion to more than SAR 1.3 trillion. All of this has increased employment rates and resulted in a surge in Saudization rates in the private sector reaching up to 50 percent. Furthermore, Saudi homeownership rates are witnessing an ongoing boost, making the Kingdom one of the top countries worldwide in terms of homeownership.
Not so long ago, there were endless restrictions on television broadcasts, yet nowadays, the Kingdom has become among the top ten countries in the world in mobile internet speeds. In a short period of time, the number of homes connected to the optical fiber network doubled from one million to 3.5 million. The Kingdom’s unique shift towards digital transformation has ensured the continuity of operations during the coronavirus pandemic, with around 94 percent of government agencies and the private sector working remotely without any major obstacles.
The level of economic social, and digital progress, prosperity, and openness we are witnessing today, required enforcing strict measures that guaranteed the complete elimination of extremism and terrorism. Only those who lived through the repression and extremism that were prevalent during the 1980s, will know how to appreciate this blessing.
The speed with which the Saudi society adjusted to these strict measures is the best proof that the people of Saudi Arabia are tolerant, accepting, and peace-loving, and that they are capable of coexisting with people from different cultures.
Let us not forget the level of discrimination that Saudi women have had to endure in the past; however, no one can deny that the Kingdom has embarked on an unprecedented reform journey to empower women, whether on a personal level, or in the workplace. In fact, within a few years, the rate of women’s labor-force participation rose from 17 percent to 31 percent.
Social change and modernization cannot be achieved simply at the stroke of a pen, courageous and difficult decisions are needed, and these decisions must take into account all the possible consequences that could arise from enforcing them. One of these consequences is that this change clashes with the interests of some groups of individuals from various social and professional settings. Such groups will do everything in their power to obstruct the process of modernization in order to preserve their influence and interests.
Also, there are parties both inside and outside our region who resent the idea of watching Saudi Arabia achieve this development so smoothly and at such an accelerated pace. The anti-corruption campaign launched by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will not end corruption overnight, however, His Highness deems it his personal duty to tackle this issue head-on with extreme ferocity.
In order to realize the remarkable magnitude of the achievements made by the Kingdom, we must remember that the challenges that Saudi Arabia had to endure in its modernization efforts were not only internal, the Kingdom faced backlash from international media outlets as well. Foreign media spared no effort to distort and disrupt this process. We all remember the media response to Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on corruption, bribery, and self-enrichment.
However, they turned a blind eye to the major breakthroughs achieved by Saudi women in terms of equality, empowerment and expanding civil and political rights. It is truly disheartening that this level of openness and rise in civil liberties in addition to many unprecedented rapid achievements that the Kingdom has accomplished has gone completely unnoticed.
However, despite the vicious attack the media has waged against Saudi leadership in an attempt to portray these achievements as missteps, Saudi citizens will never fall prey to this charade. Saudis are known for their high level of awareness and loyalty as well as their unwavering faith in their leaders.
Our country is determined to modernize the Saudi society, develop its institutions, and join the league of civilized nations. However, none of this can be achieved unless the people of Saudi Arabia stand united in support of their leadership, as this will facilitate and accelerate the pace of effective development.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz.