Just days ago, we witnessed the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that changed the world in a dramatic manner, whilst the anniversary of the Arab Spring is fast approaching. In addition to this, the anniversary of the death of Saddam Hussein falls in between these two dates. So what lessons have we learned? Has our region changed in the same manner that the world around us has?
The immediate answer is no, there has been no real change in our region. Since things are known by their opposites, if we compare the impact of the September 11 attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in terms of religion, politics, media, economy, culture and society, with that of the Arab Spring, we will see that there was a greater impact and change in Saudi Arabia than that witnessed by most Arab Spring states, not to mention post-occupation Iraq. The reason for this is that wisdom and the desire for change prevailed in Saudi Arabia. The September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States led to openness in Saudi Arabia, in all fields, as well as a clear and concrete review of all aspects of life, including even the joints of governance, from law to social activities. An example of this can be seen in the national dialogue proposed by then Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who later became the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and issued a new proposal for dialogue between sects. All of this led to openness in Saudi Arabia, which interacted with the changes around them, and this confirms that real change took place. The reason for this, as we previously mentioned, was wisdom, rather than adventure. If we compare, for example, the Arab Spring states with Saudi Arabia, we will find that these countries isolated themselves following their revolutions, whilst Saudi Arabia witnessed an increased openness following the September 11 attacks. This shows that the changes in the Arab Spring countries were not revolutions as much as seizures of power!
Following the September 11 attacks, Saudi Arabia witnessed unprecedented media openness, and suddenly comedies like “Tash ma Tash” were able to criticize anybody, including princes. Compared to this, we saw [Egyptian comedian] Adel Imam being brought to trial in Egypt following the revolution there, not to mention the Tunisian president exploding in anger after a journalist’s mobile phone rang in his presence! Following the September 11 attacks, Saudi Arabia became the most important center for combatting terrorism, rather than the US, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan or any other country, including those that said that terrorism is a Saudi phenomenon! The issue is not just regarding combatting terrorism, but also political moderation, for Saudi Arabia was the symbol of this, particularly as political moderation is an extension of the country’s political history. For whilst some were flattering al-Assad and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia was saying – as far back as 2006 – that what was happening was an adventure. In addition to this, when the Arab Spring exploded, Saudi Arabia removed the fuse of the Tunisian crisis by receiving [former president] Ben Ali. Riyadh also achieved the greatest Arab political agreement in recent years, securing the departure of Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in Yemen, which is something that the US and Europe have failed to do in Syria today. Indeed, Saudi Arabia represents the moral lever in Syria in front of the al-Assad regime, whilst Riyadh securing of the departure of Saleh recalls the Taif Accord, which secured the survival of the Lebanese state until today.
All of this confirms that what happened in our region – with the exception of Syria – are not revolutions or change, and that nobody has learnt the lesson. If you want to know the true meaning of change and openness you must compare the Arab Spring states with Saudi Arabia following the September 11 attacks or post-Saddam Iraq. The reality is that Saudi Arabia is synonymous with wisdom; this is something that should be the subject of a book, not a brief article, however the absence of serious media attention to this issue required me to shed light on it here.