The Mirage of Saudi Reforms

05/10/2010

King Abdullah, the Custodian of the two holy mosques, is widely popular in the country. I clearly recall when he became the King more than 5 years ago that many Saudis demonstrated their deep strong feelings towards him by voluntarily posting the King’s photo on their cars with slogans praising him. Today I see such photos much less frequently.

Changes took place in the country during the past five years. Yet, I hardly can identify any which directly impacted majority of Saudis in their daily life. I can claim that the changes were either in the appearance or satisfactory to a factional “war”. How?

Some of the most important changes that the King pushed for are in education and juridical system. Fruits in such areas need a lot of time before being felt. Yet, indications especially in education are not promising, I believe.

Another tool used to enforce the change were the Royal Decrees Some of these Decrees created hope when announced, while others created controversy to say the least. After the death of 120 people in Jeddah back in November as a result of moderate rain followed by a flood, a very strong worded Royal Decree was announced ordering detailed investigations of the reasons of the tragedy. It really cooled down the public mood which was so shocked of what happened. However, it is been almost a year and no real action took place against those involved in corruption that killed innocent people. What is more important is that the investigation results are still not published and kept secretive.

Though the King seemed supportive to dialogue (including dialogue between religions) and local newspapers got more critical of the performance of the ministries, the Royal Decree dismissing one of the members of the highest religious council after criticizing KAUST because of the mix of sexes in the University caused a lot of argument and was considered as a factional victory for, the so called, Saudi Liberals. Few weeks ago, another Decree was announced limiting the public fatwa to the members of the highest religious council. Keeping in mind what happened to their colleague few months ago, I doubt that the council will be in position to announce any fatwa that might not be liked by the King.

The two controversial Royal Decrees demonstrate to me that Saudi Arabia is still far away from a period of real reforms and that many things happen behind the scene causing a high level of public anxiety and create a feeling of uncertainty of the future.

When would reforms in Saudi Arabia be real reforms and not the gift of the King?. It is when those reforms focus on finding solutions to the real issues of the country rather than creating more fictional wars. On my personal view, the list of real life issues include, but not limited to, unemployment (currently at 10%, at least), homeownership (at least 40% of Saudis do not own their houses), the inflation especially as a result of greed and lack of regulations over monopoly. That might be just the tip of the iceberg because of the chronic issues such as; lack of transparency on the government income and spending, lack of public participation in governance and the accountability and finally the separation of the authorities in the country.

In a country with more than 50% of the citizens below the age of 25 years old, challenges can be turned into opportunities by taking the right strategies and inclusion of the young generations into building their own, and the country’s, future. However there is no enough evidence that such thinking exists among the ones leading the country.

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14 Responses to “The Mirage of Saudi Reforms”


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kha Mer, Kevin Ramos and Ahmed BaAboud, Eman Al Nafjan. Eman Al Nafjan said: The Mirage of Saudi Reforms http://bit.ly/9YhbuK […]

  2. Qusay Says:

    Real reforms come from the people as well as the king and government, people like to complain, yet do nothing… I’ll take the simple fact of complaining about tomato prices, has anyone thought about growing their own tomatos? you know people can use the water they perform ablution, and instead of that clean water going down the drain, it could be used for growing their own food, and by the way, tomatos can grow year round.

    I am using this as a little example, a very insignificant example to show that even this little simple act of recycling good clean water, is not even thought of.

    We all complain, but want someone else to do the job… and that will never happen.


    • Qusay,

      I agree with the conclusion of your response. Yet, I believe that things are not as simple as you put them.

      I strongly believe that changes in the social dimension of life in Saudi Arabia will help political changes. I am one of those who make it sound easier to criticize the government rather than doing much myself. I am part of the society and the culture which lived as a receiver of decisions rather than making the action. We are seeing more of initiatives from younger generation Saudis and such initiatives will increase with time which will hopefully bring more results to the good of everyone in the country.


  3. […] Ahmad Bagadood: “When would reforms in Saudi Arabia be real reforms and not the gift of the King? It is when those reforms focus on finding solutions to the real issues of the country rather than creating more fictional wars.” […]


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