Saudi Arabia does not have the option of walking away from the problems at hand. The economic, spiritual and political weight of Saudi Arabia together with its location, history and current status, are all features that force Saudi Arabia to play a key role in the region, even if it does not want to. This is the reality of the situation.
This is the fate of Saudi Arabia in general and at all times. How can this still be the case when a number of political, economic and security problems exploded? In this situation, the anticipated role and impact would increase and the emergency missions undertaken by this significant country would be increasingly challenging and there would be less room for delay and procrastination.
Since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait back in 1990 and the subsequent war that took place until the liberation of Kuwait, the Arabs have been split into two camps. Ever since, the Al Qaeda network and military-fundamentalist organizations emerged, striking all over the world until these groups accomplished their greatest feat on 9/11. Since then, the fervour of Khomeini’s revolutionary has been renewed in Iran following the nuclear weapons issue and Iranian influence, and the hit-and-run strategy between Iran and the rest of the world reoccurred, which set the Middle East, in its entirety, on fire. Iran was backed by a battalion of journalists and a detachment of nationalists along with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to portray a dark image of the essential victory for “the resistance camp” over “the defeatist camp”. In other words, the toppling of the Saudi and Egyptian regimes and those of other countries in the interest of Khomeini’s Iran, and to some extent, the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of pan-Arab nationalists and leftists.
Ever since this renewal, the Saudi state, the Saudi character, and in some extreme cases, the Saudi citizen, have been exposed to a relentless flood of attacks, smear-campaigns and severely distorted information through a particular satellite television channel. This led to other channels adopting a similar tone and embracing the same misleading preconception about the reality of the dispute between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries on one hand, and Iran, Syria and the factions allied to them on the other. This is a conflict of interests and real opposition. It is not a false or personal dispute, which is the way that some pedants attempt to portray it and who also belittle the issue by saying that it is “all in the mind” and can be solved with a few smiles and handshakes and some flattery.
Saudi Arabia has experienced and is still experiencing these regional and global storms and has not forgotten the experience of Iraq, which is yet to come out of its volatile condition. Nor has Saudi forgotten about the problems of Yemen, Sudan, Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan, because, in the end, they all clearly affect the “national security” of Saudi Arabia.
I wish that was all; in addition however, there is an incurable economic illness that has afflicted the world. Even though Saudi Arabia has been one of the least affected countries, it has sustained some damages. Many Saudis have suffered from this illness while others have lost their savings in the stock market.
There is a demand for reforms in key bodies of the Saudi state such as the judicial system, education, and the religious institution and its affiliated bodies. There is also the challenge of strengthening the concept of citizenship and confronting anything that seeks to undermine that concept, which forms the foundation of every country and society in the world. There are challenges in unemployment, incorporating women into the system of national production and creating a national discourse for a nation that has a population of approximately 20 million, the majority of which are youngsters. These youngsters are the ones who surf the net the most, communicate with the world and travel to its different parts and they are the ones who have great ambitions and big dreams.
This is Saudi Arabia. It is very fortunate that the monarch of Saudi Arabia at this important stage happens to be King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who is fully aware of these needs and challenges and has set about to make changes and reforms and to modernize the state and launch social initiatives to pump new blood into the veins of Saudi society, thus, instilling a spirit of change in this society and its members. Such spirit can work miracles.
King Abdullah has not stopped launching initiatives and making decisions that respond to the challenges of today. His initiatives relate to every part of society and state and he embarks upon these initiatives with strength, vitality and consistency, which the media finds it difficult to keep up with.
On the cover of a recent issue of [the Arabic version of] Newsweek, there is a picture of King Abdullah wearing the traditional war attire. The image carries a brief and direct caption that summarizes the actions and impact of King Abdullah: The Monarch Who Declared His Own Revolution. The statement might convey a sense of direct military action, but what it means is that what the Saudi King is doing in order to activate society and prepare his nation for confronting internal and external challenges, which is an arduous and courageous task that resembles that of a great military commander in a major, decisive battle.
King Abdullah demonstrates flexibility and efficiency in his actions. He does not insist that a decision must be adhered to if there have been changes of circumstance and developments. The best example of this is his recent “major” decision to appoint Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz, the current Minister of Interior, to the position of Second Deputy Prime Minister. The decision was reassurance to Saudi citizens that the ruling system in the country is solid and stable. This appointment means that the Captain of the Saudi ship has a strong First Mate who could act on his behalf. This would be the case if the king is out of the country or wants to assign him certain tasks beyond the capacities of the Interior Ministry.
The post of Second Deputy Prime Minister was introduced to the Saudis during the reign of King Faisal after he became king in 1964. King Faisal introduced this position as the King serves as Prime Minister and his Crown Prince serves as First Deputy Prime Minister. King Khalid, the then Crown Prince, was First Deputy Prime Minister, and King Fahd, who was the Minister of Interior, was Second Deputy Prime Minister.
During the reign of King Khalid who ascended the throne in 1975, King Fahd, the then Crown Prince, became First Deputy Prime Minister, while King Abdullah, became Second Deputy Prime Minister. Under King Fahd’s rule, which began in 1982, King Abdullah, the then Crown Prince became First Deputy Prime Minister, and Prince Sultan became Second Deputy Prime Minister. In 2005, King Abdullah ascended the throne and Prince Sultan became Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. The post of Second Deputy Prime Minister however was left vacant for the first time since it was introduced under King Faisal. The situation remained as such until the Allegiance Institution Law was issued. Prince Saud al Faisal, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs commented on the vacancy of the Second Deputy Prime Minister saying that it is the “King’s decision,” (Asharq Al-Awsat, August 8, 2005).
But when necessity called for reactivating this post, whether it is due to the nature of the tasks that the King is undertaking or the nature of the circumstances surrounding the Crown Prince, the King brought in the most appropriate and worthy man for the job; Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz, the current Minister of Interior and a veteran of the Saudi Cabinet, and son of King Abdul Aziz al Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia. Prince Naif speaks the language of a wise statesman on major political issues. The interest of the state and protecting the Saudi homeland are his top priorities. Other issues, whether internal or foreign, are up for discussion but not the interest and security of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In conclusion, the appointment of Prince Naif is a strong, royal signal of stability. A statesman known for his care and attention for the interest of the state, rule and homeland has been chosen to be Second Deputy Prime Minister so that the Saudi ship remains resistant to the rough seas of challenge.