When King Abdulaziz (may his soul rest in peace) founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it was a young country made up of tribes living in a vast desert and united under the banner of a courageous man. At the time, the Middle East was brimming with colonial forces that brought knowledge to the region’s states in the form of cultural changes, such as the various educational institutions and cultural centers, and the expertise in building modern states. Despite its psychological and national impact on populations, colonization was a direct factor in the urbanization of colonized regions: road networks, quality education, and the Western culture in general.
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Saudi Arabia was never colonized, nor was it ever under foreign rule. Yet, despite the unity and internal stability achieved under King Abdulaziz and his men, the founder knew that the country needs to build and develop itself and provide medical services, education, infrastructure, and all other services provided by a civil state to its residents. Furthermore, efforts particularly focused on building the country at the political level and dispatching diplomatic missions around the globe to represent the newly established Kingdom before the world and the international community.
A wise and intelligent man, King Abdulaziz used the help of trusted and meritorious foreign figures who are experienced in building modern states. He chose an elite group of experts in politics, education, and medicine to help lay the cornerstone for the modern Saudi state.
Among the Arab consultants to whom the King resorted was the Lebanese foreign affairs expert Fuad Bey Hamza, who was the first ambassador to be appointed to a foreign state. Given his fluency in English, he also served as the King’s consultant and personal translator and visited the various capitals of the world to introduce the Saudi state and its ruler and ruling family, with whom he had close ties.
Another such figure is Egyptian-born Hafiz Wehba, who first met the King in Kuwait and held great respect for the King’s personality and the Al Saud family and its history under the first and second Saudi state. When King Abdulaziz later invited him to Saudi Arabia, he complied and joined the government, playing a crucial role in founding the Saudi education system. This paved the way for King Abdulaziz to establish schools and focus on the education sector, a journey that his descendants continued after him. Hafiz Wehba also worked in the diplomatic field as a King Abdulaziz’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, the world’s greatest country at the time. He was able to cement the relation between the two Kingdoms at several levels and bring viewpoints closer on points of contention.
Syrian-born Dr. Rashad Pharaon, who served as a doctor in the French Army in Syria, came to Saudi Arabia as King Abdulaziz’s consultant and personal physician. Alongside his diplomatic mission in Paris, he was appointed Minister of Health in the Saudi government. Drawing from his vast experience in this vital sector, he gave the King many proposals and ideas regarding the construction of healthcare facilities.
Yusuf Yasin, a Syrian man of law, was eager to meet with the King to express his admiration of the King’s sense of pan-Arab identity. He joined his team of consultants and was one of the founders of the Saudi journalism sector. He worked in the service of the Saudi policy, especially in terms of relations with the United States and the United Kingdom.
These and other elites chosen by King Abdulaziz helped build the modern Saudi state. They not only had the utmost loyalty and respect for the King’s personality, journey, and history, but they also worked toward his aspirations to a modern Saudi state and sought to be partners in its foundation. They lived for several decades in the Kingdom under a system that values, engages, and listens to them. They joined the government entrusted with the great loyalty of the head of the state and never acted on an individual basis. Instead, they always performed their tasks with the participation of Saudis that accompanied them throughout their journey to help establish an experienced generation of Saudi citizens.
We mention these immortal names today following the decision of King Salman bin Abdulaziz to grant the Saudi citizenship to carefully selected experts in various fields, each of whom will be an added value to Saudi human resources at the scientific, political, and intellectual levels.
Times have surely changed, and Saudi Arabia has turned into a symbol of a modern state that’s open to the world, as its sons and daughters leave an impact with their academic and scientific achievements across European and American universities. Still, the principle has not changed: the more innovators, the better; especially in the context of the global race for scientific revolution.
The Saudi citizenship is one of the hardest to obtain. Since the foundation of Saudi Arabia, naturalization has not been an easy process. For several political and demographic reasons, the successive Saudi Kings have always been keen to preserve the selective nature of the citizenship obtention and withdrawal processes.
Naturalization is a political act first and foremost; a gift from the decisionmaker aimed at achieving the national interest. And what more valuable gift is there to a nation than innovators?
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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