The conflicting discourse in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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We can often spot on social media outlets a wave of refusal and protest against modernization, representing those that fear the winds of change. In fact, these uncontrolled objections give a big credit to the Saudi government on the international level for struggling to improve the status of women, standing against religious extremism, encouraging social openness and seeking to get rid of the absolute dependence on oil resources.

Domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia go beyond this framework, as an influential player on the regional and an international stage. Those who think what is happening in Saudi Arabia is only limited to the Kingdom, are not aware of the fact that it goes beyond the Saudi borders, especially in a time governed by international standards rather than local ones.

The challenge of modernization in Saudi Arabia grapples with the bold and massive economic changes even as the government undertakes social modernization along with substantial economic development tasks The voices criticizing Saudi Arabia are unexpected and do not understand the difficulty of the change process, especially on the social level. Now, thanks to those who objected on the change inside the country, the world can now perceive the Saudi government as the leader of change that bears the emerging consequences.

The government initiatives include the growth of women’s employability in public and private sectors, giving high government positions for women, and ending the embargo on the youth that is collectively fleeing the country due to the conservative climate. The youth brain drain is harming the economy, especially those getting integrated into communities abroad.

The government’s plans include the improvement of education, eradicating extremism from the curricula and institutions, modernizing the official media and introducing entertainment activities in cinema, concerts and popular events. There is no doubt that these programs will face severe objection from some people, and most of them are objecting on them out of ignorance or good intentions.

After years of rising extremism, it is normal to have enclaves refusing any attempt to improve the aspects of life. These enclaves are resorting to all possible means to incite people against changes. Ironically, the modernization concept suggested today in Saudi Arabia, would mean a step back to the past, namely the sixties and seventies era when the society was still religious and tolerant; all what is now refused was permitted back then.

The challenge of modernization in Saudi Arabia grapples with the bold and massive economic changes even as the government undertakes social modernization along with substantial economic development tasks

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Winds of change

All societies in the whole world have passed through the waves of change; they were also faced with objection. For instance, I remember that when Britain decided to open shops on Sundays, the step was faced with a wave of objection under the pretext of the sanctity of the community’s traditions. They first refused this step but the wind of change was stronger than their objections.

There is no nation in the world that has not been affected by change and modernization that might not please everyone. It is not wrong to see protestors objecting to these steps, but the change is bigger than their objections. This is why, some of them resort to the most dangerous weapons of intimidation, such as atonement, and they misuse religious platforms to attack others, although mosques belong to everyone and they can express their personal point of view on the available communication platforms.

Those who express conservative ideas that are labeled as defending traditions and hardline religious interpretations are not aware of the danger they are putting their country and community into. Restricting women’s role is harming the families on the financial level and depriving them of possible additional revenues, at a time when the income of the head of the household is no longer sufficient alone. Lot of investment is made to satisfy these conservative groups.

The society and government cannot pay this high cost, which is threatening the future where oil revenues will not be able to fulfil the needs. If we want to change this erroneous situation, we must resort to change, not for the sake of entertainment itself or calm down foreign criticism, but rather for the sake of this country, its existence and prosperity.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on March 03, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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. He tweets @aalrashed

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