Every celebration of a special occasion has its unique spirit; it removes boredom and declares the arrival of something new and different. This is a feeling that may follow King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz”s decision to consider the Saudi National Day an official holiday.
In the past, matters were not so simple for a number of reasons, including nationalism, which was set aside for the sake of other identities. The atmosphere was tense and due to the secondary identities that had been created by the pan-Arab and Islamic discourse. So, the bird of national sentiment found no place to nest.
But this is all in the past, before Saddam Hussein”s invasion of Kuwait, when Saudi Arabia decided to confront and expel in order to preserve our entity and our land. The kingdom fought both on an internal and external level. The former was represented by a religious stream that opposed the decision of the supreme leadership, despite the fact that without this decision, the whole shape of the region would have been altered and the kingdom would have been destroyed.
The outcome was a feeling of weakness in the sense of nationalism. Attempts were made to address this through the teaching of "National Education" as a syllabus in the regular curriculum. The result was not as effective as expected, since the problem was too complex to be resolved in a few pages or texts. The syllabus was also being taught by teachers, who most probably had an inaccurate understanding of the text, to students who were looking for someone to lead them and provide them with a sense of identity.
In my opinion the main reason for this feeble concept of nationalism lies in the limited concept of nationalism itself, religiously speaking, the unsolved clash and contradiction existent between the borders of the region, and the requirement that Saudi Arabia is the centre of the Muslim world.
I remember discussing this matter with a colleague who considered himself to be open-minded. I told him that I consider the interest of Saudi Arabia and Saudis as sacred and above any other general identity such as the Islamic or pan-Arab identities that he proposed. He answered by saying that we are part of the Muslim world and the interests of the Muslim nation must come before all other interests and it should be the only one we seek to serve. I replied that we serve the entity that protects and preserves our existence, without which, we would have had no homeland.
My "open-minded" colleague insisted on his view, which is tainted with a superficial religious tone and is sadly a prevalent view. I went on to describe a story from the life of our prophet. When the prophet wanted to enter Mecca with the Muslims, he ratified the treaty of Hudaibya with his enemies, the non-believers of Quraish. This truce included conditions such as whoever came as a Muslim from Quraish, the prophet would send them back and would not keep them as part of his Muslim group. Equally, whoever abandoned the Muslims and returned to Quraish, would not be accepted there. Soon after the agreement was signed, one of the imprisoned Muslims in Mecca escaped after witnessing torture in Quraish. One of the negotiators of Quraish, Suhayl Ibn Amr, said, "I will not continue with this until you return this boy to Quraish, in accordance with the first part of the agreement, Mohammed". The prophet returned him immediately as the boy looked in amazement asking, "Are you returning me to Quraish to tempt me against my religion?" Some of the prophet”s companions stood astonished at how they could leave a Muslim without defending him, knowing how he would be treated by the non-believers. Regardless, the agreement was upheld, despite protests.
I asked my colleague, does this not indicate that the interest of the rising state in Medina and its policies stand before all else, even if against the interest of another Muslim? Is this not one of the disregarded practical lessons of politics in the prophet”s life? My friend did not reply but the question remains.
Returning to the Saudi National Day, I believe that in giving a holiday to official circles for the first time for the national day is indeed an action that will affect the lives of people in all corners of the country. Such acts are a practical training for the meaning of being Saudi, or Jordanian, Kuwaiti or Iraqi and so on.
This country was built upon heroic deeds, efforts, blood and sweat. Abdulaziz Bin Abdul-Rahman Bin Saud built a country; he was not only a prince who sought to establish an emirate somewhere in this desert. Abdulaziz maintained a vision of unity. One can only wonder when he hears the Arabs of the Mediterranean or the north talking about the union of Abdul Nasser despite its failure with Syria, and yet completely disregard the unity of Abdulaziz, who united a number of different entities within one country. Is not this the most successful "real" Arab experience of unity in the last century? May Allah bless the enlightened Kuwaiti poet Khaled Al-Faraj who compared the unity of the iron German Otto von Bismarck to the unity of Abdulaziz in a poem in 1926!
To prove that the intention of establishing a country existed, I recall two significant moments of his life. The first was as a young man in Riyadh and the second was during the last days of his life. Mohammed Al-Ali Al-Obaid, the Saudi historian, recalls that he was standing at the gates of Shabra palace in Taif while King Abdulaziz was talking to the famous scholar Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bolaihid. He said, "When Mohammed bin Abdullah Ibn Rashid, the most prominent prince of Najd at that time, came to destroy the fence of Riyadh I was watching the scene with my cousins who were my age. This was the Hijra year of 1307 and the prince, accompanied by his cousin Hamoud Al-Obaib Ibn Rashid, was encouraging the workers to speed up. I stood there and had nothing over my head but a red cover, my eyes were watering and my eyelids were heavy. Mohammed Ibn Rashid approached me, put his hand over my head, turned to Hamoud Al-Obaid and said in colloquial Najdi, "Hamoud, do not take that boy as a trivial issue". The prince continued saying, "I don”t know who told him I was Abdul Rahman Al-Faisal”s son?"".
In the year 1373 of Hijra (1952 AD) when King Abdulaziz became ill and died, King Saud the then Crown Prince, was in charge of administration. As described by Prince Tallal, he suggested founding a cabinet but Prince Saud said that they must first obtain King Abdulaziz”s permission. Tallal entered King Abdulaziz”s room to propose the founding of a cabinet and in the final moments of his life, the King replied, "Was I consulted about this and did I refuse? I now accept".
It is through this that we understand that Abdulaziz was hurt when he saw the fence destroyed, as he sought to continue building until the last moment of his life. He had a mission and remarkably understood the idea of a state despite being raised with the desert culture of Najd. He presented a country to the Arab peninsula and it was not an experiment limited to a Sultanate or an Emirate.
Today, many years after the heroic construction of a state, achieved by Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia has become a heavyweight in the international spectrum and is still developing. However, it faces challenges both internally and externally. The Iraqi chaos and Iran”s involvement, Saudi concern about clashing with a local deputy of the Khomeini revolution (clearly and angrily expressed by the Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal lately), are contributions to the permanent Iraqi burdens that Saudi Arabia has had to face since from the days of Rasheed Al-Kilani to those of Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Al-Hakim and other men of the Shiite fundamentalist dream.
This is the destiny of great entities, to face immense challenges even when they prefer not to. We can consider this as we reflect on historical challenges, which are linked to present hardships because the story has not ended, but has rather just begun.