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King Fahd : The Moment of Reform | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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He had keen interest in the new scientific-intellectual transformations. In addition, he perceived stagnant thought to be a grave danger to society and religion. I asked a prominent Arab diplomat who resided in Saudi Arabia for many years and had first-hand experience with its ruling family about the impression that King Fahd, who he knew well, had left on him. The reply was &#34precise awareness of the balance of the international situation, the ability to perceive its transformations, and a wide acquaintance with the world”s current events. In fact I have not met any Arab leader who matched such an acquaintance.&#34

As it is well known, the Kingdom played a pivotal role in both the Arab regional system and the wider Islamic circle during Fahd”s reign. Also, under his rule, many strategic initiatives that were personally associated to him were introduced, from the Fez plan to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the foundation of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as several others. History gives credit to the man for his evasion of the great dangers and challenges that took place within the extensive region around the kingdom. Perhaps, the two Gulf wars are good examples.

Moreover, the impact of King Fahd, May God bless his soul, upon his country was very stable and strong. In this respect, the course of the Saudi state is usually described as having experienced three stages: the unification stage during King Abdel Aziz”s reign, the modernization phase during King Faisal”s reign, and the reformist phase under King Fahd. The latter realized the necessity of establishing the appropriate political and administrative frames that could handle the mega socio-economic development of Saudi Arabia. In light of this perspective, he introduced several basic reforms such as the system for governance, the system for the regions, the Consultative Council that consisted of the cultural and social elites, the Human Rights Association, and the organization of municipal elections for the first time in the Kingdom”s history.

The relevance of these reforms, even if they seemed limited to some, was major because they occurred in a conservative society, the primordial kinship structure of which still attaches a great importance to social mobilization. This always compelled the state to be the main leader of development and modernization like many other Arab societies. However, King Fahd correctly placed his bet on the crucial role of education, and on the benefits of the outcome of such great investments that he made in that sector. It is well known that he began his career as a Minister of education therefore paid great attention to the educational development of the Saudis. His reign witnessed a clearly increasing educational improvement. Therefore, the sharp insight of the international scene was reflected in his reform based on the faith in the development and progress through open mindedness to international experiences whilst at the same time remaining close to the Islamic cultural basis. According to those around him, King Fahd maintained an interest in scientific-intellectual developments, and he believed that stagnant thought was a great danger to both the society and religion.

Fortunately, this reformative orientation was further entrenched over the last few years of King Fahd”s reign, during which the new king Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz was in control . King Abdullah is known for his close ties to the intellectual elites and his modernizing perspective. Therefore, his succession is an important continuation that is required to propel the comprehensive political and social reforms that were initiated by the late King. On several occasions during my frequent visits to Saudi Arabia, I attended King Abdullah”s meetings with Saudi intellectuals and writers, especially during the Janadriya annual festival, where I sensed his reformative spirit, which welcomed different opinions. I remember in this respect a cordial gathering that included King Abdullah, the brilliant Minister Iyad Madani, a small group of guests of the Saudi Minister of Pilgrimage and myself. During the meeting we listened to King Abdullah who presented a profound analysis of the impact of September 11 on the Arab and international scenes, and on the ties between America and the Muslim world. What really captured my attention in his presentation was the strong sense of identity and dignity combined with a strong faith in the necessity of such courageous reforms. Stemming from this, he initiated the call for the national free dialogue that has already taken a promising institutional and fixed structure in Saudi Arabia today.

Therefore, one could safely conclude that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is about to enter its second stage of the reformative project that had been initiated strongly by the late King Fahd, and that has had clear and outstanding effects on his country and nation.