One day before King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz met with Saudi students in the city of Toronto, Canada, a number of Saudi scholarship students gathered in the lobby of the hotel that the Saudi delegation was staying in. At the time, my attention was drawn to an elder Saudi gentleman who was dressed in traditional Saudi attire; he had a long white beard and was sitting next to a young girl who was wearing a veil. At first glance I thought that this man may have been in Canada to receive medical treatment, however one of the Saudi Arabian [newspaper] editors who was accompanying the Saudi delegation asked him what he was doing there. The man answered that he was accompanying his daughter who had received a scholarship to study abroad from the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program, and that he had decided to chaperone his daughter as she did not have anybody to chaperone her.
I recalled this man’s story – who after all of these years had left his home and country behind in order to ensure that his daughter received a scholarship and education abroad – whilst I was reading an article written by one of the supporters of [Islamic] fundamentalism and fundamentalists. The writer of this article was calling for an academic study to monitor the impact that scholarship students have on Saudi society following their return, fearing the impact of westernization on Saudi society from the return of around 150,000 scholarship students!
Instead of this writer and those like him calling for impartial academic studies to monitor the impact on Saudi Arabia of those returning from Afghanistan and other hotbeds of extremism, not just now, but over the past 20 years or more, and how their ideology has infiltrated society and left us with this number of terrorists who have put themselves and innocent people into peril, this writer is today calling for an academic study into the impact of those [students] returning from abroad where they have acquired useful knowledge!
It would be much more useful and effective if elements such as this call for studies that will tell us how to benefit from the return of scholarship students, and how to create jobs for them, and how they can contribute to the development of society, as well as studies to ensure that we maintain the scholarship program for the next 10 years or more, or studies that show how we can legally and linguistically prepare scholarship students before they leave to study abroad so that they can avoid any harsh experiences, and so that we can help them to avoid mistakes. As for calling for a study to monitor the impact of their return on society, this is nothing more than an attempt to admonish and distort the concept of scholarship.
What is beautiful and important is that educational scholarships have touched most families in Saudi Arabia, and this is something that will continue to have a large impact on Saudi citizens – both men and women – and on the country itself. There are those who have travelled abroad with their children to ensure that they do not miss out on this educational opportunity, such as the man that I saw in Canada and many others, because they believe that “knowledge raises our houses without foundations” as the [Arab poet] Ahmed Shawqi said, God rest his soul. As for those who are trying to be clever, it is clear that they are seeking to strengthen backwardness under the pretext of preserving customs and traditions and protecting society. This is a notion that has been repeated often, as unfortunately they always focus on the empty half of the glass.
Therefore, King Abdullah’s foreign scholarship program remains a landmark in the history of Saudi Arabia, especially after such scholarship stopped for a long period of time. Therefore, this program deserves our thanks and appreciation and our commendation for its continuance, rather than attempting to derail this.