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Opinion: Saudi Arabia’s new faces - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the largest ever Saudi cabinet reshuffle, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz issued a royal order appointing nine new ministers earlier this week. This represents a massive change of the collective face of government’s leadership. The reshuffle includes the appointment of new ministers in ministries affiliated to public services, as well as portfolios responsible for the Kingdom’s intellectual and cultural life. The changes are even more surprising given that they come just days before the announcement of the 2015 national budget.

The ministerial reshuffle sees the appointment of new ministers of agriculture, transport, health, social affairs, communication, Islamic affairs, culture and information, and higher education.

Regarding the ministerial portfolios responsible for providing citizens with services, what is required from the new ministers is no secret. However what is more important, and requires further clarification, is the ministries related to fostering the culture of Saudi Arabia. The latest cabinet reshuffle has seen a number of changes in this regard, particularly the appointment of new ministers for Islamic affairs, culture and information, and higher education.

The current battle is primarily one of raising awareness. Where there is sufficient awareness, there are no real difficulties in driving development, achieving justice and respect for law and order. The issue starts with knowledge, and then the heart and mind follows. This is the beginning, not the end.

For example, the Ministry of Higher Education oversees the largest scholarship program for education abroad, namely the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. More than 150,000 Saudi students are part of this program so every Saudi household has some connection to it, directly or indirectly.

So how will this ministry manage its affairs, securing the education of our youth in order to serve the national interest and bolster the Saudi workforce? How will this ministry guarantee the safety of its students abroad from terrorists or parties hostile to Saudi Arabia, including the Muslim Brotherhood?

As for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, how will the ministry deal with unruly preachers and those who call for fitna (religious strife) and issue statements of support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in their Friday sermons?

There can be no doubt that these radical preachers exist among our religious leadership, even if they are a minority. So what will the new minister do to protect religion and worshipers and peace and stability?

As for the Ministry of Culture and Information, what do we expect from the new minister regarding Saudi Arabia’s cultural output and vision? Will we see a true breakthrough in our cultural activity? What impact will this have on our industry or national economy? There is strong evidence from across the world that a true cultural renaissance is the best antidote to erasing ignorance and extremism. So how can we achieve this?

What role does theater, fine arts, photography, literature, cultural exhibitions and song play in our country? Before the cultural drought, these all had their place in our society, whether we are talking about the stages of Riyadh or Jeddah.

Change brings hope. But the real work remains . . .

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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