The new spirit that is shining in Saudi Arabia following the 2030-Vision is astonishing, and it simply symbolizes the revival of a society that always aspired to live it up, and of a land that has always been central and highly influential within its region. The new vision was never confined to the political or economic aspects, but it constituted the regain of public sphere and preventing it from going astray or loose - through binding it to the institutions. Before the Vision, one would have passed by the public gardens to find them decaying, by theaters to find them empty, and by bookfairs to find them strained by censorship. However, today it is an entirely different atmosphere, environment, and air.
One is not anymore surprised when hearing about events that vary between a bookfair, an inauguration of entertainment activities across the country, or an opening of an exhibition for hunting weapons. This emerging glow was never expected by observers just a few years ago, and Saudi Arabia has become a dynamo of what is tangible in everyday life such as arts, culture, entertainment, and renewal. None of these promising advances could have happened without a deep philosophical perspective that scrutinized the society’s previous pains and hopes for years.
The new societal awakening to life stems from the simple desire to belong to the world. The peoples of the Arabian Gulf countries never had a bad relationship with the West, as the case was with ideologically-indoctrinated leaders throughout several decades. Rather, they were interested in construction and development, which have both constituted a common ground between the peoples of that region and the back then emerging Western companies in fields such as water exploration, medical services, or oil exploration. At any rate, the achievements of these Gulf Arabian peoples were an opportunity provided by the progress-seeking side, rather than a charity granted by the side that grabbed that opportunity.
There are interesting stories of the earliest encounters between Arabian Gulf individuals and British or American residents when mineral and oil exploration has kicked-off in the region, when administrative cadres were firstly trained, or when military bases and civil airports where constructed, and anyone who did not read such stories will not realize the convergence concept between the Arabian Gulf and the West, and how the relationship of the region’s people with the West has never been disturbed. Instead, the West has established the first hospitals, supported education, and contributed to a constructive dialogue and to the advocation of mutual points of understanding with the Gulf peoples, through what became known as “the traveler’s literature.”
Some are still affected by old speeches made by earlier Arab leaders who were attributing all kinds of failings to monarchic states. However, what are the Arabs left with today? What is left to them after all that screaming, wailing, and hollow phrases? Well, they are left with nothing but the success of those who chose the path of national interests, political realism, and economic growth. This growth and diversity is not restricted to Saudi Arabia, but it extends to the entire Gulf region, as manifested in the grand festivals in Abu Dhabi, Expo in Dubai, and the tolerance rhetoric in Bahrain, which are all indications that commitment to growth, national interests, and political realism are the basis for any political, economic, cultural, or societal success.
Furthermore, if one reflects on the dark and hard historical phases of the Gulf peoples, one finds that they were instigated by neighboring countries, as when the religious anti-Western rhetoric bloomed with the emergence of the Iranian revolution and its aftermath. However, whenever conditions become stable, such a rhetoric calms down and turns to a rising civil and mundane discourse, especially when the latter is given a chance through debates and dialogues. Nowadays we are going through an exceptional phase that considers development a long-range philosophy, rather than a plan, and this constitutes a huge difference.
Some say that we have already embarked on our new journey, questioning the rationale behind recalling the pretexts and discourse of dark eras, backward mentality, and ignorance-mongers!
Well, such an inquiry is itself blameful, for the right thing to do is to continue constructing with one hand while fighting with the other hand those battalions of darkness that aspire to abort our dreams. The struggle must go on, as the pretexts of these battalions are being declared through their proxy battlefields, namely, the social media tools that enable someone like Ayman al-Zawahiri to use ‘Telegram’ software to convey a message to his affiliates. Hence, these battalions that are inciting people against development and entertainment are also exploiting these Internet platforms, particularly WhatsApp, to celebrate each fake news, fabricated rumor, or slander.
Development in the Gulf region has always been of a comprehensive nature, starting by development and moving to culture with all its ideas, writings, and arts. Entertainment is a necessity that covers a major mundane need with its lively atmospheres and art festivals, through which one can get refreshed along with the family and loved ones during days of relaxation and dissociation from tiresome work. Summer outdoor activities are also another refreshing and uplifting entertainment.
Meanwhile, investing in what the public sphere could provide in terms of entertainment and beauty is in line with what Islamic jurisprudence clerics termed as ‘permitted activities,’ and these religiously permitted activities cannot be banned based on an arbitrary opinion. A Quranic verse reads: “Say; who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of God which He has produced for His servants,” a notion that also makes me recall what I mentioned in an earlier article on this newspaper also regarding the religiously-permitted activities, quoting the 14th century Cleric Imam al-Shatibi in his book ‘Al-Muwafaqat’ (The Reconciliation of the Fundamentals of Islamic Law), particularly the second section titled ‘the Book of Judgements’ in the chapter of ‘the Permitted Activities.’ There, al-Shatibi says: “The ‘permitted activities’ are neither required, nor discouraged, and thus they are optional deeds to Muslims who would either do or not do them, without praising those who abstain from doing them or condemning those who do them. Hence, since according to Islamic jurisprudence the permissibility of two choices are firmly stated, it is not a sign of piety to desert these activities since there is no religious obligation to do so, and since obedience is required only when there is a request. Hence, no request means no obedience.” He adds: “The scrutinizers think that deserting an action that is religiously permissible is a choice. Hence, abstaining from a permitted action is permitted.” (Al-Muwafaqat; first volume, pages 172 - 215). In the same vein, Minister Turki al-Sheikh made an important and significant statement to the same effect, saying: “The King and the Crown Prince are keen on preventing banned and sinful deeds, just as much as they are keen on preserving the practice of permitted deeds, and this is a clear-cut matter.”
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.