Saudi Arabia, one of the oldest countries in the region or rather in the world, celebrates now the 83rd anniversary of its establishment as a modern state.
The state first appeared in 1744 and it almost included the entire Arabian Peninsula and reached the borders of the Levant. People outside Saudi Arabia may be curious as to how it still struggles with civilian transformation after this long age.
Some in the kingdom even object to the celebration of the National Day, others are against women having an ID card with a photo. Some criticize sending students to study abroad; others succeed at banning cinemas and preventing women from driving cars.
One becomes more confused when they realize that Saudi Arabia isn't a closed fort. It's one of the largest countries in the region in terms of access to the internet, social media and mobile communications. Its citizens travel across the world the most among people in the region. More than 10 million foreigners from various cultures live in Saudi Arabia. Those who are far however wonder how it can be so equipped for openness but remains the most closed up?
The state here is the party seeking social openness, and it's a slow march which isn't easy as it struggled to open schools for girls, introduce radio stations and television channels and hold celebrations. The list goes on and on, and some matters remain controversial until today.
The mystery of the Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula has been a puzzle for travelers and orientalists for centuries. We must not forget that it's the land from which its tribes left during waves of migration across the region reaching Central Asia, China and northern Spain.
Saudi Arabia celebrates its 83rd anniversary, though its real age is 225 years old.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Although its men built an empire and prominent Muslim kingdoms which ruled the world, they all left the Arabian peninsula and never returned to it since the era of Caliph Muawiyah Bin Abi Sufyan as they resided in Iraq, the Levant, Egypt and the Islamic Maghreb. The peninsula’s rough conditions made it a land that pushed its residents to leave. But this lasted until the 20th century. Migration patterns then shifted towards it instead of away from of it, thanks to petroleum and technology. Today's world has nothing to do with the worlds of ancient centuries as the concept of the state, means of governance and means of production and income changed a lot.
The Saudi Arabian state was established within the context of the national state which emerged in the 19th century and upon the state's responsibilities which were solidified after World War II. It's currently a modern entity.
It's certain that the factors which positively and negatively affected the life of the modern Saudi are many. Some of these are the unity of the vast country, its long isolation from the world as one of the few countries that wasn't colonized, the continuity of a political hybrid of tribes and modernity, the discovery of petroleum, economic openness and political stability.
Saudi Arabia celebrates its 83rd anniversary, though its real age is 225 years old. And as time passes by, it confronts more challenges which are not the Iranian threat, or internal terrorism or even the international pressures demanding more development and change. Its real challenges are internal such as those of unemployment, social development, the increase of social and financial burdens on the state and the expectations of political participation. These challenges complicate with time and incomes resulting from petroleum won't be enough to resolve them. The foreign threat has failed in achieving any infiltration in the past, so its only hope is to exploit the internal situation and destroy historical structures.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 24, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.