Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring’

Two Sides of a Sword

16/05/2012

 

Saudi Arabia is known as the country with the highest oil reserves and as the largest oil producer. The country started exporting oil since 1939 which means it is been more than 72 years since then. The infrastructure of the country was significantly developed and the face of changed as a result of the income of exporting oil for all of these years. However, corruption was there along the way resulting in a lot of waste and improper management of the huge available income.

 

More people are aware today of the fact that more than 30% of the Saudis are less than 15 years old. In the other hand, King Abdullah is about 90 years old and none of the ministers is less than 50 years old with one single exception. In many countries people talk about Generation Y and how much different they are compared to Generation X and older generations. Saudi Arabia is not an exception here. Younger people in Saudi Arabia have their own needs and expectations. Without meeting those needs and expectations, things in the future might get more difficult in different aspects.

 

As unemployment is on the rise and more youngsters are graduating from universities not only local ones but also prestigious schools from around the world, the pressures are getting more tense on the government. The fresh graduates who choose to come back home were exposed during their years abroad to new cultures and political systems that are faraway from what they’ll find home. Surely not each one of them will have the guts, time or interest to demand implementing similar changes in their country. However, some might find it the most important thing they could give back to their country and to their future kids. Many of these students are actually females. Given the current situation of females in Saudi Arabia, I don’t expect many of those female graduates to accept the statuesque. Not only the government will struggle with that, but also the more conservative groups of the society as well.

 

Social Media brought to Saudi Arabia a vibe of change like nothing else in the past ten years. Many people experienced the freedom of saying what they really feel without a lot of concern. Many realized that the country is not what they personally believe in and that others might not share with them the same views. With the impact of the Arab Spring, individuals in Saudi Arabia know that they are part of the equation and ignoring them is not really an option. It is true that Riyadh streets did not experience any protests, but many use Social Media as Saudi Arabia’s Tahrir Square. Almost nothing could stop that. The question is how far and for how long such protests will remain a cyber-phenomenon.

From another angel, such challenges to the future of Saudi Arabia can be considered as strengths and catalysts for change and better future for the country. The financial wealth available is great, however the real assets of any nation is its own people. The country has no choice but to bring more inclusion of its citizens in running things. The Royals cannot run everything and might not have the right people in the near future who have the wisdom to keep things together. Going into the future without a vision will make the country very vulnerable to any internal or external risks. The stability Saudi Arabia experienced for many years might be at risk very soon.

 

Oil and money can be here today but they are not assured for the future. Educated and dedicated citizens will not ensure the sustainability of any country. Saudi Arabia today is facing the two sides of a sword. Either it will bring prospers future or it might mean the end of any hope in the future.

 

 

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I am a Dreamer

09/07/2011

For ages the question about the suitability of democracy in the Arab and Islamic countries was raised. With the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, the question is coming back with hopes and fears of what path these revolutions will take. During my trip to Germany I attended the Global Media Forum organized by Deutsche Welle where many of the attendees showed a lot of interest in knowing more about what is going on. Many questions were raised such as; why they are happening? Why the Gulf countries are not seeing such revolutions and how these revolutions will shape the future of the region and, probably, the world and many more other questions. I enjoyed the discussions with people from around the globe. Yet during three different occasions, three Arab attendees insisted that Arabs are not ready for democracy. Two of them were so pessimistic about the chances of implementing democracy in the Arab World. They predicted that democracy will not flourish in this region before 50 to 300 years. My response to them was “My daughter Joori is about six years old; I hope, wish and want her to participate in the elections of the Saudi Parliament before she is twenty six years old”. Am I dreaming? Sure. But what is life without dreams?

Saudi Arabia is known to be the biggest oil producer and it possesses largest oil reserves in the world. Parts of the financial returns of selling the oil helped in establishing the country’s infrastructure, raised the level of education among the citizens and enlarged the middle class significantly. On the other hand, the country suffers on many other aspects. Saudis live under strong security grip and corruption is unprecedented. The performance of many government entities and agencies is generally below the expectations of citizens. About half of the population is below 25 years old and many of them are unemployed.

The Saudi society values are partially inspired by Islam which is demonstrated in some occasions through positive behaviors such as assisting the needy, dignity, magnanimity and others. Yet, the society has been suffering from issues such as racism, sectarianism, favoritism, the situation of women and others. As a result of all of these issues, there are portions of Saudis (that cannot be really quantified due to lack of data) who agree on the need for change. However, the details and direction of such desired change are not agreed upon and can be very controversial.

The above is a personal attempt to reflect the reality of Saudi Arabia today. Such reality is also shaped and impacted by the structure of the state and society and the relationship between them. When the power is limited to the hands of a few while the vast majority of people do not have much of influence on the country present and future, in addition to the weak – or lack of – feeling of citizenship and feelings of belonging, we find that we are facing a complex reality which might at any moment lead to unexpected developments that no one can expect their extent or outcomes.  Also, the society’s view of itself and the quality of relationships within it and its relationship to the state and its system helps in the formation of the current image of Saudi Arabia and increases the difficulties for the change or major developments.

With such gloomy view, some may find it impossible to think about democracy in a country with all of these challenges and complications. But the world around us today clearly shows that democracy is the most effective system of governance through an agreed upon Constitution that enforces the separation of powers, equality of all citizens and the participation of the people in choosing their representatives freely. Thus we, in Saudi Arabia, either belong to the faction of people, who use democratic means to rule, or we are totally different than that faction and we actually belong to another faction that has nothing to do with a majority of human beings on this planet. Can we be so different?.

I personally think that the pursuit of democracy in Saudi Arabia would be one way to address the serious structural defects in the state and society. The struggle to democratization in Saudi Arabia will help facing what must be changed and reformed through the interaction of citizens with their problems and working together to confront them and find solutions. For example, nowadays discussing the issue of the detainees for long periods without trial is widespread in the channels of the new media in Saudi Arabia which demonstrates that concepts such as the state of institutions and rights began to spread among younger generation who are the group that will make the future on their own and will be making the changes that they want despite the enormous challenges that might be faced.

But democracy today, to me personally, is not an end in itself but a means for the result I want to see in Saudi Arabia. I do not care much how long it will take as long as we will be able to move in the direction I hope for my country. The future dream I see for Saudi Arabia is a modern state that ensures public participation and equality of all citizens and at the same time economically able to face the enormous challenges ahead of the country. The road to democracy in Saudi Arabia will also be a means to dismantle parts of the obstacles and barriers that have been injected into the body of the state and society and resulted our present. What we live in today is the result of long years of mistakes that will not disappear automatically, but will need the hard work and real participation of everyone, or at least the believers in the necessity of change and who those willing to pay the price to get it.

When talking about democracy, usually the discussion involves talking about the West and the liberties practiced there which might be in contradiction with some basic values of Islam and the Saudi society. I do not think that we are obligated to the introduction of a Western model of democracy as it is. Every society should strive to reach their own model that suite their needs and values. Therefore, I know that our society is very different from other communities around the world, so we may evolve to a model of democracy that is not like any other model which may resemble or differ from other models in the world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel as they say, but we need to benefit from our own experiences and mistakes as well as from others experiences and mistakes until we reach the result that we want for this country.

I am definitely dreaming and I will keep doing so, not because I am a romantic person, but because we are in front of a sad reality that does not present much of encouraging options and without dreams the present will be difficult to bear. Also, I really believe that part of any change is the dream that brings disciples of change as seen through the great Egyptian revolution. During the eighteen days of the revolution I lived something like a dream, and even now I feel the dream is not over yet. Though I realize that only the head of the snake is been chopped and still there is a long way to remove the snake’s spirit from the body of Egypt and the Egyptians.

So I dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia, and not after 100 years, but in the near foreseen future. Because those who deny our readiness for democracy today do not offer much of alternatives except the present which is not desirable. They do not have much of influence into shaping the future except waiting for the gifts of the state which might not ever come. We might not be ever ready for the democracy, but silence and stillness will not make us ready tomorrow. But promoting awareness and stimulating debate among people helps imagining and forming a better future for our children.