On the National Day of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz declared that Saudi women would be granted the right to contribute to the running of the country, through participating as members of the Shura Council in the upcoming round in 2013, and also though being granted the right to vote and stand as candidates in future municipal elections beginning in 2015. This decree (when viewed in the context of the King’s previous acts) is a qualitative step in the process of building the modern Saudi state; now 79 years old.
After the prophet (PBUH) united the Arab Peninsula’s tribes into one nation in the early 7th century A.D., the Islamic state was then founded during the era of the Righteous Caliphs, with Medina being the capital city. However, the situation then changed when the Umayyad Caliphate established its own state in Damascus in 622 AH and hence the capital city was moved outside the country [Saudi Arabia].
Since that date, tribal fragmentation gradually reoccurred in the Arab peninsula and lasted for nearly 13 centuries, until Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud came in the early 20th century to reunite the Najd and Hijaz tribes into one state in 1932, which was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Six years after the Kingdom was declared, oil was discovered in the city of Dahran, which fostered Saudi national unity and enabled the newly-born state to commence the process of urban and social development. After King Abdul Bin Aziz passed away in 1953, the process of building the country’s administrative, economic and social structure was initiated in 1964 during the era of King Faisal. He had previously emphasized the Kingdom’s civilized trend by ending slavery in 1962 whilst serving as Prime Minister during King Saud’s era. King Fahd came in 1975 to instigate an urban revolution that incorporated the construction of cities, roads and airports. With his profound wisdom, King Fahd was successful in confronting Saddam Hussein’s attempts to gain control of the state of Kuwait and the Gulf coast. From the year 2005 onwards, the Saudi state entered a new era of its history, reaching maturity with the beginning of King Abdullah’s rule, the sixth Saudi king, and the 12th son of King Abdul-Aziz. The Kingdom has now become an active and effective member not only in the international economy, but in the political sphere as well.
The development of education has been a major concern for King Abdullah, realizing that modern states must rely on science and technology. In 2005, the King opted to send male and female students on scholarships abroad, whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level, with the total number being estimated at nearly 70,000 students in 25 countries, most prominently in the US. Last year, 25 per cent of the Saudi state budget was allocated to education. The King has also stressed the need to include Saudi women in the process of building a better society for the future, thus he appointed Norah Abdullah al-Faiz (a former university teacher in America) as a Deputy Minister of Education and the official in charge of female education in Saudi Arabia. The king also encouraged the construction of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
As a result of the spread of education throughout the Kingdom since the era of King Faisal, a new society of young men and women has been produced, capable of taking the next step towards the Kingdom’s civilization and development. Thus, King Abdullah issued a number of significant decrees at the beginning of this year leading towards an improvement of living standards, especially in the areas of housing, unemployment, education, health, social security, and the fight against corruption. King Abdullah allocated US$ 37 million to spend on vital issues in the country, such as making new job opportunities available for young people, offering social aid to the unemployed, aiding students, and wiping off unpaid instalments for those unable to repay housing debts. King Abdullah also reorganized the Saudi judicial sector by offering training programs to Sharia judges and allowing appeals and revisions on several court verdicts. King Abdullah was also responsible for the establishment of a special agency to encourage investment into new economic activities in the kingdom, and he also allocated large sums in the new budget to train a workforce for future business ventures and employment opportunities.
In the health sector, the King outlined that a new system to detect breast cancer in its early stages had been developed, in order to facilitate treatment. In the field of security, the Kingdom has been able to deal with extremist youths during the era of King Abdullah, whether through security measures or advice and guidance. This has made the Kingdom one of the safest areas in the Middle East.
The global view of Saudi Arabia also changed when King Abdullah launched initiatives for dialogue between different cultures in order to create communication and understanding between the nations of the world. The ultimate goal was coexistence, and the ability to overcome problems through mutual understanding, rather than conflict. In response to the emergence of terrorist groups killing people in the name of Islam, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz launched a number of initiatives for dialogue between cultures, and called for an international conference hosting followers of different faiths, which was held in the Spanish capital Madrid in July 2008. It was attended by 200 scholars and representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The king then called for a second international conference, this time held in the UN’s headquarters in New York in November 2008, which was attended by representatives of 80 countries.
The political participation of Saudi women in the Kingdom is another complementary measure towards a new Arab civilization based on knowledge and faith, a civilization that makes every endeavour to improve the state and illuminate the road to a better future.