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Opinion: Optimism prevails on Saudi National Day | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi children sitting in the back of a car display a national flag during celebrations marking the 83rd Saudi Arabian National Day in the desert kingdom’s capital Riyadh, on September 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is celebrating its National Day today, September 23, the day which marks the official founding of the Kingdom in 1932.

Saudi Arabia’s celebration was marked with a “workshop” highlighting the vast accomplishments in building the Kingdom’s foundations.

The kingdom celebrated as a developed and secure nation, in stark contrast to the turmoil being endured by several regional neighbors. However, this triumph was lost on a small faction of political activists, which included both Saudis and non-Saudis alike.

Campaigns have been launched by religious “speakers” and by writers adhering to the tide of politicized fundamentalists. In a manner reflective of resentment, pessimism, and frustration, they seemed to be seething with anger at the National Day celebrations.

Instead of using this occasion to discuss the strengthening of national cohesion and the establishment of the spirit of national loyalty, criticisms focused on scattered, isolated problems suffered by this side or the other.

For some fundamental activists, the reasons to protest included the public appearance of a veiled Saudi poetess, reciting her poem on a national cultural occasion! This is the sort of matter that that they perceive as important and will lead to calamity and destruction.

In fact, such activist cadres have a whole host of reasons for disrupting and belittling the idea of celebrating National Day. For example, a fundamental activist cannot celebrate this occasion whilst several of his companions have been jailed under a variety of charges, predominantly security charges…

Anyone with a propensity for bile and bitterness has joined one of these groups, irrespective of the reality on the ground. For them, their angst is a matter of “identity” and existence, not the consequence of a protest directed at a specific issue. It is a permanent, eternal and immortal commitment.

Are we advocating the elimination of checks and balances of the state’s and ministries’ performance? Of course not, for this would be completely against the interest of the state and society.

The crucial point is therefore to distinguish between criticism leveled against a specific issue and the desire to “establish” a state of discontent and anger, even when there is no just cause behind this “state of discontent.” Evidence for this can be found when observing a group with certain individuals being engaged in a specific activity. The group or individuals may then suddenly begin engaging in a completely different campaign with a different inclination. This same group may then be seen in a third campaign, a fourth campaign, and so on. In this instance, we are therefore confronting those who have taken the prior decision to promote anger and rage, then publicize this feeling, irrespective of reality.

In my assessment, the problem is not with desiring change provided that the cause behind this motive is clear and accurately depicts the state of affairs. This is engaging in professional “opposition”. The problem lies with “some” vulnerable or impressionable people rushing towards this behavior, while ignorant of the fact that they are in the midst of a specific activity of systematic political opposition that has nothing to do with a worthy cause or the targeting of a “specific “issue”.

I think we need to alert, once more, the current conscience of society to our history, by reclaiming the progress we all saw in the sand, mountains and valleys of the Arabian peninsula throughout the past century. We need to remember why we should be proud of this heritage and strive to maintain this country and society.

The responsibility of refreshing and “enlightening” the Saudi memory, without sanctification or underestimation, must partially lie with the state, as well as on those who can contribute. This, however, is another matter entirely.