Saudi Arabia is not a backward state

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

The decision to grant Saudi women a license to drive was no ordinary decision. It actually confirms Saudi Arabia’s decisive journey towards civilization, modernization and development. This has been Saudi Arabia’s orientation for many years, as it opened its markets and economy for foreign companies, sent its students to study abroad and strengthened its ties with world powers. However, the decision to allow women to drive sent a clear and frank message to those who oppose the kingdom and which stipulates that Saudi Arabia is heading towards the future and it will not regress, as they are planning and hoping.

Picturing Saudi Arabia as a backward country that is isolated from the rest of the world has been the aim of those who hate Saudi Arabia, both inside and outside the kingdom. These people included figures who work in prominent universities and famous television stations in the West.

But what does a extremist or a Brotherhood affiliate who practice strict religious behavior in Riyadh or Dammam have in common with a host or researcher in New York or Washington and how do they benefit from each other?

A black cloud

Before answering this question we must understand that preventing women from driving was like a black cloud that prevented the world from seeing all the positive measures which Saudi Arabia has taken. It was like a black hole that absorbed all our successes and good habits, such as sending hundreds of thousands of students to study abroad, assigning 30 women in the Shura council and helping millions of poor people across the world.

Why did this happen? First it is because there was nothing that practically justifies the ban. The stances of those objecting to women driving were not logical or morally justified. This matter directly affected the life of half of the society’s members on a daily basis. It’s not a small issue that can be brushed under the carpet. It resulted in a bad reputation that obscured other important achievements. Another reason is that this matter is rather strange and people in general like these strange pieces of news. What makes this bad in this case is that it depicted the entire society as outdated. An American in Oregon, west of the US, would not know that Saudi Arabia aids the poor from all religions and he may even hear about this without forming any impression. However, he will form an impression and have an opinion when he hears that women cannot drive! This impression will rather solidify forever after a mere one-minute search on Google. The third reason is that Saudi Arabia’s rivals, whether it’s the Brotherhood or figures affiliated with Doha or leftists, exploited this ban during every conference or television show in an attempt to stain the kingdom’s reputation. Of course, we do not expect these people to make any good remarks about Saudi Arabia.

Picturing Saudi Arabia as a backward country that is isolated from the rest of the world has been the aim of those who hate Saudi Arabia, both inside and outside the kingdom.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

As I have mentioned in my previous article titled “Women driving license a victory for Saudi society,” this bad reputation has extended to include all Saudi society. We’d be asked “do you support women driving?” at universities or in cafes. They’d ask us that as if we come from the stone age! We are a developed, vital and young society that is familiar with what’s happening in the world. However, this bad reputation is now being absorbed by that black hole.

Let’s answer that question: What brings an extremist or Brotherhood supporter and an American researcher or host together?

A lot more than we actually expect. They disagree over the means but agree on the final outcome which is showing Saudi Arabia as an extremist, backward country that’s isolated from the modern world.

When extremist figures who oppose women driving make television appearances and spread hateful and extremist ideas, they intentionally or unintentionally poison the social culture and deceive thousands of young people. By doing so, they achieve their aim to establish a closed and isolated society. This is why they fight any intellectual or writer who call for tolerance and for combating hate. They accuse them of apostasy because they contradict their vision of the country they want to establish. Technological development and social media helped them turn their extremist rhetoric into trends which achieved the aim of depicting Saudi Arabia negatively like they wanted. The extent of strange and extremist fatwas, such as those related to Mickey Mouse, are not a coincidence but intentional as they aim to create a permanent massive cultural gap between us and others.

These people exploited the driving ban and insulted anyone who called for allowing women to drive. Non-Saudi preachers also worked to distort Saudi Arabia’s image, and they’d turn into Saudis by just wearing the shemagh. The Brotherhood’s and extremists' internal strategy is clear: deepen extremism so it’s not possible to heal from it and spread it as much as possible outside the kingdom in order to harm social and cultural bridges with the developed world.

Exploiting a treasure

Leftist or right-wing extremists in the US and Europe, and of course the Iranians and Doha’s supporters, found in this extremist rhetoric pertaining to women driving a treasure. Will they dump it in the nearest trash bin? Of course not. They will exploit it in every occasion to depict Saudi Arabia as a backward state that supports extremists. One of those who adopted this approach is an author who is well-known for his Iranian orientations. This writer ignored all the horrific crimes which the mullahs’ regime committed and published an article in the American Time magazine attacking Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy which is well-known for its moderation and support of stability. He based his piece on extremists’ speeches. What does foreign policy have to do with the fatwas of an extremist preacher? Is this author stupid? No, he’s definitely not but he’s actually burying all of the kingdom’s significant achievements because he’s aware that western readers care about strange stories that are professionally phrased a lot more than they care about rigid facts. Do not expect your enemy to be fair to you, and more importantly do not give him the rifle that he will point at your chest and kill you with.

We’ve now put all this behind us following the historical decision made by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The decision clearly told the entire world that Saudi Arabia is a country that belongs to the future despite all obstructions. It’s a modern and moderate state that’s not a extremist or a Brotherhood state or a backward country like its enemies have planned for it to be for decades. Saudi women can now rejoice and get driving licenses as they prepare to drive their new cars and men can rest assured a little, as it’s been a long journey.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.