From Saudi Arabia’s historic unification to its modernization battles

Saad Al-Sowayan
Saad Al-Sowayan
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
8 min read

After the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was united by founder King Abdul Aziz, our country was transformed from rival tribes and scattered regions into a prestigious and existed entity. After the unification came the foundation stage, then came the construction phase.

These hard times united us and gave us a prestigious homeland and an identity we are proud of. During this period, the first step of which was taken by Harba Ibn Jalawi at Bab al-Masmak, our country experienced many crises and was able to overcome them smoothly in a way that exceeded all expectations, the most recent was the question of the transfer of ruling from children to grandchildren. Everyone was concerned about this issue. Today, however, we see how this worry and fear has turned into optimism and confidence in the future.

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared for the first time on television with Al Arabiya General Manager Turki al-Dakhil all these worries and concerns vanished. In one of my TV interviews, I had commented on his interview by saying that "Prince Muhammad is like the Suhail star, which make Arabs feel optimistic when sighting." This feeling was reinforced in his other interview with MBC host Dawood al-Shirian; to the extent that one of my colleagues who was watching the interview with me commented, "I wish he appears on TV every day."

Mohammed Bin Salman represents the beginning of the grandchildren’s generation, he feels he has a responsibility towards his homeland and that it is time to face difficult challenges and launch the sweeping changes necessary to keep pace with civilized nations. We see before us a pragmatic man who presents realistic plans with deadlines and feasible steps. Saudi Arabia has become one of the few countries in which a citizen can go to sleep confident that there will be a lot happening tomorrow; that the pleasant surprises are coming one after the other. No one has ever dreamed of the boldness with which decisions are being made and just how much the pace of achievement is accelerating.

Vision 2030 is the starting point for the challenge and the modernization battle that will put the Saudi Arabia at the edge of a real renaissance. It presents practical measures and gradual steps that will reconstruct the social structure and restructure it according to modern principles and modern concepts. It redraws the map of the Saudi society in order to solve cultural obstacles, rationally. The taboos were reduced and fell apart one by one. Prince Mohammed has instilled a new consciousness in us, making us a part of the modern era and living among civilized nations.

The National Transformation Program means shifting from a Bedouin rural society to a capitalist industrial society to the economy of the market. The capitalist industrial society has its own conditions, values and laws set by Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers. These rules established openness, freedom and tolerance, which had a great impact and contributed in the progress of the Western countries. These philosophers have realized that the organic interdependence of several factors in society means that one aspect of social life, such as the economy, cannot progress, while other aspects are kept conservative and traditional. Social values must correspond to the economic base.

We are in need of changing intellectual structures and reforming our stereotypical character, to promote the values of tolerance and openness to the other, to adopt enlightened thoughts so that we can adapt to the modern world

Saad al-Sowayan

Due to current international trends and challenges; we are in need of changing intellectual structures and reforming our stereotypical character, to promote the values of tolerance and openness to the other, to adopt enlightened thoughts so that we can adapt to the modern world, which surrounds us from all sides and encircles us on all fronts. Today, we are at the crossroads where we are preparing for a new social contract that regulates our relations within formal institutions and legal frameworks that keeps the rights of everyone and respect the personal freedoms and dignity of all citizens in order to deepen the national identity and ensure the minimum national consensus on values recognized and accepted by everyone. It serves our common interests, so as not to give privileged to one sect over the other, nor a doctrine over the other; because the concept of citizenship transcends all sub-loyalties, contains and gets everyone in the national crucible under the sovereignty of the state and law.

A lot of what we considered yesterday as constant givens and a cultural specialization was like a stumbling block in developing the educational curricula, and hinder the business sector, tourism, media, art and entertainment, and undermine the state projects and the development and modernization ambitions. Examples for this include theater, cinemas and entertainment in general, as well as women's education, employment and driving. The problem has been exacerbated as many of these cultural values and social practices were given a religious perspective.

Old convictions

The most serious crisis we faced was when a small group of society was able to influence the society and managed to control the theater, the public seats, loudspeakers and study platforms, and was able, for a while in direct and indirect ways, to control the education process, the cultural and media platforms. Tried to the way to a dead end scientifically and intellectually, a way to eliminate the mind completely so that it does not have the opportunity to exercise its role in thinking and expression. now it is no longer acceptable nor rational to hand over our future to this small group and allow it to be our guardian and impose all its old convictions on us, nor force its perspectives in religious state and individual behavior on us and oblige us with it as if it is constant national givens that is not debatable and cannot be neglected.

It has been told that Sheikh Abdullah Ibin Belhid met with King Abdul Aziz, may God have mercy on both of them, when the latter was a boy who lives with his father in Kuwait, and due to Ibn Belhid's knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula and its inhabitants, tribes and history, the boy liked his stories, and before leaving the boy asked: what do you think Sheikh of a young man who has nothing but this stick and this camel. Do you think he can regain the rule of Najd? Ibn Belhid did not know then that this boy will someday become the king of Saudi Arabia, but of courtesy he replied: Say: O God, the owner of everything, you grant authority to whom you choose and get it away of whom you choose, you dignify whom you choose and humiliate whom you choose, you have all the good and can do everything.

Many people highlighted the similarities between the late founding King and Prince Mohammed bin Salman: the eye twitch, the husky voice... Perhaps what they meant by this similarity is that the appearance can indicates what’s inside and that miracles are achieved by the men of excellence. King Abdul Aziz led the unification battles and his grandson Prince Mohammed leads the modernization battles, he wakes up and takes a nap (I do not say sleep, because it is apparent that what does not sleep), carrying the concerns of his homeland. He is doing what he has to do, and we, as citizens and officials, have to support him each one of us should carry on his duty, and trust him and be with not against him. It is our duty towards the homeland to deal with its issues with high responsibility and conscience.

This article was first published in Arabic.

Saad al-Sowayan is a Saudi anthropologist who specializes in Bedouin oral history.

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