Saudi Arabia: A Sense of Identity and Nationalism

Forbes Magazine has ranked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as the third most powerful man in the world.  He is credited for his power not only as the leader of the world’s largest crude oil reserves and as Custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam but also for his efforts towards social and legal reforms.  These credits in my opinion only touch the tip of the iceberg on the factors which attribute to King Abdullah’s ranking in Forbes Magazine.

Forbes may view power by economics and leadership as key factors but equally important, King Abdullah opened up a new sense of identity and nationalism within Saudi Arabia for its people.  Saudi Arabia is a country where the family and tribe are the basis of its social structure.  Yet thanks to King Abdullah, there is now a greater sense of identity and nationalism among the people of Saudi Arabia.

Although Saudi Arabia was formally recognized as a unified country in 1932, it was not until King Abdullah came to power that Saudi National Day (23 September) became an official holiday.  Designating Saudi National Day as an official holiday gave Saudi citizens a greater awareness and sense of collective unity and identity as Saudi’s rather than as members of individual tribes.

King Abdullah has been out on the forefront of Saudi Arabia towards new reforms and economic endeavors which will greatly benefit the people of Saudi Arabia.  He has ordered the building of new Economic Cities, new Universities and at a pace not seen before.  Under his ruling, male and female students may jointly attend non-segregated classes at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST).  King Abdullah understands the need for educational reform and greater educational opportunities from inside of Saudi Arabia.  He has further opened the door for Saudi women to obtain greater and wider educational opportunities.

When one looks at King Abdullah’s efforts outside of the Kingdom, there are further initiatives and actions that forge identity and nationalism among the Saudi people.  Under King Abdullah’s leadership, Saudi Arabia has continued to take greater strides towards peace between Israel and Palestine; resolving conflicts in Darfur; greater involvement in Afghanistan and Iran on issues of terrorism and foreign policy; and successful programs which have thwarted terrorist plots and activities.  He has achieved much more.  In fact, King Abdullah at age 86 has achieved more since he has been King than many other world leaders nearly half his age.


3 Responses

  1. Rendering Them Unworthy of Respect

    A Saudi official, a member of the powerless royal appointed Saudi Consultative Council (Majlis Alshura) expresses what most of his compatriots experience and observe every day: the Saudi ruling elites’ contempt for their voiceless population. As a former employee of the oil industry in Eastern Saudi Arabia, I can attest to Dr. Abdulwahab Bin Mohammed Al-Migthil’s (Alshura Council) account of how Saudis are constantly reminded that they are unworthy of respect by their government and its agencies.

    The living and working arrangements in the Saudi oil facilities in the 1950s, 60s and 70s were divided into three separate and very unequal categories: General, Intermediate and Senior Staff Camps. Saudis were assigned to the General Camp which they shared with snakes, scorpions and stray animals. Non-Saudi, but not Westerner expatriates were assigned to the gated Intermediate Camp; and Westerners were given the top prize, the Senior Staff Camp. Of the three camps, the General Camp resembled a dilapidated ghetto in a lush neighborhood, a situation that led some Saudis to form labor committees whose job was to organize strikes against the company’s discriminatory polices, but in reality the target was the Saudi ruling family and its demonstrated contempt for Saudi employees. The strikes turned violent and shocked the foundations of the fragile Saudi system.

    As I recall, when we Saudi employees returned from abroad, we had to wait in airports’ long lines while foreigners were ushered through quick lines and greeted with smiles and welcoming gesticulations. Saudi nationals were interrogated, aggressively searched and ordered to collect their scattered belongings and go through specific exists.

    There is a cruelly hidden reason why Saudi authorities treat their subjects (Ra-e-yah or “herd”) with contempt, while foreigners, especially Westerners, are treated with respect. The autocratic and theocratic Saudi ruling dynasties came to and maintain power by the sword and by instilling fear of God’s wrath in people’s minds, hearts and souls, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. From its inception in the mid eighteen century, the Saudi-Wahhabi program was/is designed to reduce the Saudi people to fearful and dependent beings, unworthy of respect from each other, their rulers and from the rest of the world. The evidence of this reality is abundant everywhere, in and outside of Saudi Arabia.

    These contemptuous treatments of Saudis by the men and institutions that rule them have painfully and dangerously succeeded, at least until now. Saudi society, in general, is among the most divided in the world, is intolerant of differences and worst of all, has accepted a fate of submission to cruel men, to helplessness and hopelessness.

    However, this can not continue for long. Saudis, in general, but specifically women, youth and many of the educated are becoming less fearful, more vocal and more inward-looking instead of blaming the US, Israel and colonialism for their staggering homegrown political, economic, social and educational failures. This wellspring of discontent is mostly the result of the unprecedented flow of information via uncontrollable internet, satellite channel and globalization of commodities, services and values.

    Dr. Abdulwahab Bin Mohammed Al-Migthil’s long list of facts in the Arabic article below is not fiction, nor is he the only one who feels this way. Just imagine how the millions of Saudis who are not as privileged as he is feel and what they experience every day of their lives.

    The Saudi elitists and their supporters in the West will lose some by empowering pro-democracy and social justice advocates in Saudi Arabia, but will lose much more, if not everything, by maintaining the pre-modern and unacceptable status quo or by decreeing misleading adjustments. Read more

  2. Good stuff Ali, I agree. I am just not sure so that the Saudi people, at this point, have had enough to do what it takes to make real and lasting change.\

    The change will only happen when the al-Saud family is ousted from power. Oddly enough, it could be the blood spilt in a battle of succession that will cause the whole thing to collapse.

  3. If you can find an English version of the article please post!

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