A strong Saudi Arabia a beacon of hope for the world
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the most consequential regionally and internationally. Yet, one wonders how this land, with its unfavorable geography, heterogeneous population and long history of conflicts, changed in just a century from an isolated desert chieftaincy into a founding member of the UN and one of the most influential countries in the world.
The chronicles of the Arabian Peninsula indicate that the area between the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf has been home to more than two dozen Arab tribes. Besides, since the dawn of Islam, myriads of Muslims have come from all four corners of the globe to perform Hajj in the holy land of Makkah and Medina. Some pilgrims stayed afterward and resettled in the Hijaz region.
The currents of the Arabian Gulf carried ships of pearls and other goods and enabled the movement of people from far away to the east coast. Not to forget the trade caravans that ran from Yemen to the Levant and from Najd to Iraq, taking merchants and their merchandise all over. Specific tribes and families were famed for their trans-peninsular trade excursions.
The vast stretch of desert, mostly arid with little or no rain, made living conditions in Arabia one of the harshest globally. Those fortunate enough to have a flock of sheep, a herd of camels or a piece of agricultural land stayed home to rear their livestock or tend their farms.
Those who had money and a talent for trade traveled for commercial gain, while those with no personal belongings moved from one area to another, eking out a living that barely sustained them and their families.
Before the advent of Al-Saud rule, tribes fought each other, villages pillaged one another and the tribal chiefs battled for power and dominance over pastures and territories. The conflicts were rampant and, wherever there was a prize, the stoking and divisive foreign entities lurked on the periphery of the peninsula to snatch it.
This dreadful state of chaos and conflict continued for hundreds of years — a period of time notorious for its abject poverty, ignorance and epidemics. At the turn of the 20th century, the land and its inhabitants were on a date with two auspicious events.
The first was the rise to prominence of one visionary leader, King Abdul Aziz, who unified an expansive land with no unifying geography and built a nation from heterogeneous populations previously in conflict with each other.
The second was the gift from the desert that forever longed for a drop of water to touch its grains while it collected tremendous reservoirs of oil in its entrails. A few drillings later, a black liquid gushed out, ushering in an unprecedented golden age of prosperity for Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom is much more than oil; it is a wide array of natural resources, people and habitats
Not much later, the Kingdom has risen to become a cornerstone of the world’s economy and its main supplier of energy. But Saudi Arabia is much more than oil; it is a wide array of natural resources, people and habitats.
From the acacia forests in the Asir mountains to the olive trees of Jouf, from the palm trees of Al-Qassim to the oil-harboring desert in the Empty Quarter and from the Gulf to the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia features diverse climates, landscapes and resources. Forests blossom in the southwest of the country.
Unlike the fake oases seen in Hollywood movies, with their serried ranks of date palms and watercourses, Asir’s forests are natural, full of trees, shrubs and wild animals, which can be seen amid the peaks of the mountains.
On a recent visit to Jazan with a group of Shoura Council members, I was thrilled to venture through its diverse and fascinating terrains: The Red Sea, Fifa mountains, Tihama plains and tongues of desert scattered in between.
I tasted its homegrown mango and coffee and the local honey. It was such a delight to get acquainted with the amazing heritage of Jazan and to talk with its farmers, shepherds, fishermen, poets and artists.
Likewise, all provinces of Saudi Arabia exhibit unique historical, geographical and cultural attributes that distinguish them from one another. Yet, in spite of our diverse backgrounds, we have a consensus to honor and guard our authentic and magnificent heritage in the face of the profane, depraved and false values that are swarming us from elsewhere in the world.
As the descendants of farmers, shepherds, merchants, Bedouin tribes, urban families and all other stripes of society, Saudis take pride in their altruism, courage and compassion. We are a gracious nation that regards hospitality to strangers and charity to the poor as our topmost virtues.
As we celebrate the 92nd national day of Saudi Arabia, we should not overlook what made us a nation, namely the diversity of our people and the unity of our homeland. Still, the country required a new vision that challenged the status quo, which was clinging to antiquated and unproductive social and economic structures.
In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030, which is a huge paradigm shift that is based on diversification of the economy, opening up to the outside world and tearing down the walls that kept wide swaths of society marginalized for a long time.
Vision 2030 is a massive social and economic reform program that pledges to purge corruption, entrench meritocracy and provide equitable opportunities across the full spectrum of the Saudi people. It behooves us on national day to celebrate our diversity and our Kingdom’s vision, while doing our utmost to safeguard its secure and prosperous future, bearing in mind that we are stronger together and weaker apart.
Three hundred years ago in Arabia, incompetent governance, scarce resources and non-egalitarian societies resulted in disorder, conflicts and a prolonged period of social injustice and economic stagnation. Today, Saudi Arabia, with its bold leadership, vivacious forward-looking perspective, diverse heritage and rich resources, is much stronger than ever before. It is a beacon of hope and illumination to the whole world.
• Dr. Hasan Al-Massloom is a member of the Saudi Shura Council and an expert on change management who writes passionately about its behavioral, social, and cultural aspects. He and his team were the recipients of the Ministry of Health Award for the Most Inspirational Story in 2020.