Back to the future: Resetting the time continuum from 1979

Faisal Al-Shammeri

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There are a host of issues in the Middle East grabbing headlines these days. Developments in Afghanistan and Iran, political instability in Egypt and acts of terrorism are some of the important areas in the news at this time.

These incidents are occurring almost simultaneously and before one can fully assess one event, another adds on to a growing list of geopolitical developments. It is tempting to look at four subjects mentioned above as all of them had their origins in 1979.

However, Egypt is perhaps the only exception in this regard in that it has remained stable until events that unfolded in 2011. Nothing has ever been the same since that year.

1979: The watershed year

Incidents of terrorism have increased at an exponential rate that show it is no longer a menace regionally, but is capable of afflicting every part of the globe. Khomeini seized power in Iran and introduced the most radical ideology since Lenin’s Bolshevik Russia. The world and the region has not been the same since the clergy started ruling from Tehran.

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan has remained in a perpetual state of war. These events have shaken the world, especially the Muslim world, since 1979. The waves would come crashing on the shores of Saudi Arabia and in some cases they made inroads into the mainland.

There was no history of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and even Iran prior to 1979. From that year onward, Iran embarked on a policy of terror which lasts to this very day

Faisal Al-Shammeri

Among other things lost that could be explained in two words are identity and narrative. In response to Khomeinist Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the narrative and true identity of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been lost.

The founding principle of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Islam. Of this there is no question and nor should it ever be. However, our identity was lost in 1979 and it would remain missing on account of some who wished to deliberately deviate from Islam with the goal of wielding an instrument that simply sought political outcomes through the murder of innocents.

There was no history of terrorism in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and even Iran prior to 1979. From that year onwards, Iran embarked on a policy of terror which lasts to this very day. In response to this period of instability, it was thought that austerity and purity were the proper mantras.

Resetting progress

What would emerge was neither our true identity as a citizenry. The result was a failure to develop a balanced economy that truly reflected the vast talents of the citizenry. This led to an unbalanced society where some felt left out as they watched first hand some of the greatest transfers of wealth in human history that arrived in the Kingdom.

The education system was not properly designed to educate the citizenry in a way that could be fully mobilized to participate in the development of The Kingdom and the world at large. The result was an inability to find our identity in a world that was rapidly changing into what would be the modern era that we see today. The result was a stultification of our progress that had been rapid and dizzying in the 1970’s.

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Vision 2030 is about the future, but it is also about the past. While moving forward into the future to a place that is rightfully ours we will be defining our narrative by rediscovering, in some ways, our identity. As the official policy of Saudi Arabia moves on we will also be returning to the norms existing before 1979.

Across the GCC, we see how Islam and modernity go hand in hand. Further afield, we can see Islam and modernity going hand in hand in places like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Islam has proven throughout its history to be at the forefront of scientific thought and modernity. It has been said that while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages the torch of civilization blazed in Córdoba.

The greatest asset that Saudi Arabia will have during this journey is its people. A fully mobilized citizenry, imbued with the belief that good character, good activity, and good habits will find their just rewards, will be well situated to reclaim its true identity and narrative.
Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst based in Washington DC. He tweets @mr_alshammeri.

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