Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about Saudi Arabia? To answer the aforementioned question one must specify the angle from which Saudi Arabia is looked at. To have a clearer idea, I will give a summary of events that took place in a span of week in the Kingdom that bear some indications.
– The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz delivered a speech to the Shoura Council. Most notably, he said that responsible freedom is the right of every virtuous person who favors spiritual and material gains for his country. He stated that he has never hesitated in criticizing himself, sometimes harshly. He stressed that his country does not respond to the calls of ignorance and emphasized that the era of chaos and disunity that the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz al Saud brought to an end, have gone forever and that belonging to the homeland must be the kind of belonging that appreciates hardships and can transform them into determination, will and change.
– The Saudi scholar [Sheikh Mohsen al Obaikan] confronted aggressive attacks that were launched against him because he participated in the Ardha dance at a relative’s wedding.
– The Saudi king and his brothers, members of the Saudi authorities, took part in the Saudi Ardha. In a poem about the Ardha, Khalid al Faisal said: “Today the Ardha…the mastery of horsemanship and swordplay!”
– A group issued a fatwa against two Saudi writers for apostasy and called for them to be put to death if they do not repent for what they have written.
– A Saudi Mufti in Medina delivered a lecture entitled, “The dangers of terrorism upon the individual and society,” in which he stated: The ordeal that afflicts the people of Islam is the rush to accuse people of heresy and decadence even though religion warns against following this evil path since “whoever calls his brother a Kafir [disbeliever] is calling himself a Kafir.”
– The Saudi Cassation Court rejected the judicial ruling that acquitted two members of the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who are accused of killing a Saudi citizen.
– Saudi Arabia approved a plan to train 40,000 Imams in all regions in the culture of dialogue and communication skills. The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs will undertake this mission.
– The Saudi Control and Investigation Board stated that governors of provinces requested that scrutiny begins at their offices and that there are no red lines in supervision.
These are all Saudi headlines so where should the analyst start in order to understand what is going on in Saudi Arabia and to decide what optimism and pessimism is?
A week ago, when I was in Riyadh, I needed help finding a hotel room since there was the Janadriyah Festival, the book fair, the King Faisal Award, the Saudi Theatre Festival and other events taking place. Of course, women are also present at such functions.
Should we believe what one news agency claimed when it said that there is an ongoing struggle in Saudi Arabia between the liberals and conservatives? The answer is absolutely not! The Saudi government is not liberal, the mufti is not liberal, the Cassation Court is not liberal and the writers have ideas not weapons.
So what is happening in Saudi Arabia?
My conviction is that the wheel of modernization has begun to rotate with full force in order to push the country forward and there are those who love and those who hate modernization in the same way that there are those who love and those who hate the rain.
For that reason I am optimistic, and I believe that the cycle of development has begun and is like a fast train on solid steel rail tracks that delineate its path. I am optimistic because the wheel is in motion and those in denial have come to represent a reaction and not a negotiation.