By Siraj Wahab
Former Saudi Ambassador to Washington and London Prince Turki Al-Faisal highlighted Saudi Arabia’s national unity and its long march toward development recently in a speech delivered to the Middle East Association (MEA) at The Dorchester Hotel in London.
Prince Turki, who now heads the Riyadh-based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, detailed the Kingdom’s progress since 1925 and the institution of the Shoura Council through the present day. He explained the differences between the governments that have drawn sharp criticism from their citizens and Saudi Arabia.
“Despite the turmoil taking place in so many Middle Eastern nations, as well as predictions among some pundits that such turmoil is bound to find its way into the Kingdom, the history of the Saudi State is in fact the history of a government that has developed over time in response to the needs of its people, and it is a progressive, active, modern political entity that due to its past actions is uniquely secure in its future,” said Prince Turki.
He noted that the Kingdom has long battled extremism masquerading as religious fervor and that the terror attacks actually have brought the Saudi people together.
“Saudi Arabia began experiencing an assertive Saudi nationalism that fully transcends tribal and regional allegiances,” he said. “While it has many causes, a few of the most important are the first Iraq War of 1990, from which we emerged victorious over an odious and malignant Saddam Hussein, the attacks of Al-Qaeda on the United States and the Kingdom in 2001 and 2003 respectively, which led to an introspective revaluation of our values and beliefs, and the rise of an aggressive Iran over the last 10 years. These events brought about a strong sense of national unity in the Saudi people, and we are still seeing the ripple effects of this assertive nationalism today.”
The Kingdom has continued to develop both global and regional roles, and Prince Turki spoke of an era of internationalism through which Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is guiding the country.
“We have seen the Saudi State progress in its sophistication through such policy institutions as the Supreme Economic Council, the National Dialogue Center, and the Council for Succession ... but we have also seen the Saudi State looking outward in an ever-more focused and responsible manner, attempting to bring stability to the region of which it is such a vital member,” he said. “It is important to note that internal and external progress is linked closely together. A nation cannot be a strong and respected international player unless it is strong domestically, and this fact has guided the actions of the Saudi government.”
Empowering Saudi women continues to be a priority as is evidenced through continuing changes in the national perspective.
“To honor King Fahd’s belief that women and men should have equal roles in the development of the Kingdom, as stated in his previously mentioned speech to the Majlis Al-Shura in 2003, King Abdullah expanded women’s education to all fields of knowledge and built the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology,” said Prince Turki. “He introduced the National Dialogue in which Saudis of both sexes and from a variety of socio-economic categories discuss controversial issues such as terrorism, women’s role in society, educational reform, religious speech, and many others. In its eighth year now, the dialogue moves from town to town, province to province, holding public meetings in which anyone can say whatever he or she wishes, and all the sessions are televised so that the public can follow along. It is a very Saudi way of soul-searching and engaging in participatory discussion, and we strongly believe that it is the right direction for our country to take as we look for newer and more innovative ways to involve all Saudis in the discourse about the direction their country should take.”
Prince Turki said King Abdullah places high importance on providing the best education possible for future generations of Saudi citizens.
“He expanded the scholarship program for Saudi students to study abroad and we now have more than 100,000 young people attending the finest academic institutions in more than 50 countries. He also quadrupled the number of Saudi universities to meet the demands of a growing number of Saudi youngsters who want to acquire the skills to meet the complex demands of the future while remaining in their home country.”
Prince Turki said the king considers the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) as the jewel in the Kingdom’s educational crown and evidence of its commitment to diversity.
“It is a postgraduate research university where the student population is more than 65 percent non-Saudi, where the president is a Singaporean Chinese scientist, and where the board of trustees is composed of distinguished academics and civic leaders from all over the world,” he said. “This is a truly remarkable achievement that not only helps the Kingdom open up its intellectual horizons to the rest of the world, but it also stands as a strong statement against those nihilistic and xenophobic forces that seek to destroy the Kingdom in the name of radical extremism rather than build it up in the name of Islam.”
He said the Saudi people are aware of their government’s efforts on their behalf and that this distinguished the Kingdom from those places that have been shaken by dissent.
“The Kingdom is a place of progress and stability, and this progress and stability have been hard won by actions of the past, which continue very much today as the nation strives for a better future,” the prince said. “Unlike so many countries that are now encountering unrest, Saudi Arabia has seen practically no turmoil within its borders, and there is a very simple reason for this. The Saudi people, unlike those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, have not been the subjects of neglect and corruption, but instead have been active and valued participants in the creation of a fully progressive, modern, inclusive state. The Kingdom and its people, from the king to the schoolchild, do not have the arrogance to believe that we have reached perfection. We have a long way ahead of us, of turmoil and struggle, of ambition and accomplishments, of tearing down walls of bigotry and hatred. For this reason, the vast majority of the people support their country.”
Prince Turki quoted William Shakespeare to describe the relationship between the government and the people of Saudi Arabia.
“In exchange for this loyalty, the Saudi leadership will tirelessly pursue its agenda of improving the government institutions to better address and improve the lives of its people — an agenda it has been pursuing for more than 80 years, taking to heart Shakespeare’s assessment of the nation’s role in our lives in Titus Andronicus: ‘to heal harms and wipe away woes.’ As you have seen, what was supposed to be and loudly touted by your media organs as a ‘Day of Rage’ (March 11) in the Kingdom turned out to be a ‘Day of Tranquility,’ as any Friday is in the land of Islam.”