Smooth transition as Salman becomes new king

Updated 24 January 2015
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Smooth transition as Salman becomes new king

King Salman vowed on Friday to continue with policies meant to solidify and strengthen the Kingdom as he ascended the throne following the death of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
Salman takes over as the ultimate authority amid global and domestic challenges compounded by the plunging price of oil in recent months and the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.
In his first speech as king, shown live on Saudi television, he pledged to maintain the same approach to ruling the world’s top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam as his predecessors and called for unity among Arab states.
“We will continue, God willing, to hold the straight course that this country has followed since its establishment by the late King Abdulaziz,” he said.
The new king said the Kingdom “is in dire need today to be united and maintain solidarity” at a time of turmoil in many parts of the world.
“I ask God to assist me to serve our dear people and realize their hopes, and to preserve our country and our nation’s security and stability, and to protect them from all evils, for He is the master and able to do that. There’s no strength except with God,” he added.
On King Abdullah’s death, which was announced by the royal court at past midnight last night,
King Salman prayed that God “bestow his soul in mercy and to admit him in his vast paradise and to reward him the best best reward for the outstanding work in the service of his religion and homeland and nation.”

Succession
With Salman’s ascension of the throne, then Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin has become the crown prince and deputy prime minister, while Interior Minister Mohammed bin Naif is the new deputy crown prince and second deputy prime minister.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the new defense minister and head of the royal court, the Saudi Press Agency said.
Prince Mohammed bin Naif becomes the first grandson of the kingdom’s founding ruler, King Abdulaziz, known as Ibn Saud, to take an established place in the line of succession.
All Saudi kings since King Abdulaziz’s death in 1953 have been his sons.
King Abdullah’s legacy has been described as an effort to overhaul the kingdom’s economic and social systems to address a looming demographic crisis by creating private sector jobs and making young Saudis better prepared to take them.
“I think (Salman) will continue with Abdullah’s reforms. He realizes the importance of this. He’s not conservative in person, but he values the opinion of the conservative constituency of the country,” said Jamal Khashoggi, general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel.

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A legacy of likability: King Abdullah

A legacy of likability: King Abdullah

A legacy is a word we often use in our daily life for larger-than-life political public figures (e. g., kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers and other political figures) while evaluating their public policies and achievements. However, it is not necessary that a person must hold a political post to have a memorable legacy, each person can have one.
A legacy, according to the daily use of the word, is the impression that he/she leaves on others’ hearts and minds after a brief or long-term encounter. It is either a soothing feeling to the soul, or a sour feeling that upsets the soul. Moreover, the encounter can be either personal (e.g., dyadic relationships — fiancé and wife) or direct (e.g., friends, workmates and classmates) or mediated by media outlets and second persons (e. g., public figures in the areas of business, arts, entertainment, sports and the likes).
Our assessment of those public figures, including politicians, is not usually objective as many would expect. It is entirely tainted with our subjective feelings, specifically, our liking for a public figure no matter what his/her capacity. This is an accepted scientific fact in the areas of political and social sciences. As a result, political campaigners, pollsters and advertisement agencies put a lot of time and efforts in vigorously studying the “likability” factor of a public figure.
One can deduce that our assessment of our public figures, in most part, is based on the feelings that we have for them in our hearts rather than our minds, even in the most critical assessment, such as of our leaders. This political and social fact has come to be known in the first televised US presidential debate in 1960 between Vice President Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy. This debate drew over 66 million viewers of a population of 179 million Americans.
Although, Nixon was a vice president, Sen. Kennedy won the presidential debate and eventually the US presidency. Many political and social scholars claim that the “likability” of Kennedy was the decisive factor in his winning of the US presidency, especially his looks on television. Similarly, for this reason, George W. Bush, Texas governor, won the presidential debate with Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Many believe that President Bush’s accessibility to the American people, who can relate to him as one of them, “Good Ole’ Country Boy,” won him the US presidency.
As we commemorate Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s accession to the throne on 25th Jumada Al-Thani 1426H/Aug. 1, 2005, as the sixth king of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is time to reflect on our king’s legacy that affects the future of the country and Saudi people. This reflection involves the king’s likability, his public domestic policies and his international public policy. By examining this three-level analysis, one could contemplate where Saudi Arabia is heading forward.
It is already established that the “likability” of a public figure is determined by several factors, most importantly, accessibility to the people. King Abdullah’s accessibility emanates from his natural personal feeling that he is one of his people, and this can be detected in his actions and sayings. Most Saudis still remember his surprise visits, when he was a Crown Prince, to some Saudi families in their homes to inquire about their livelihoods, and his intermingling with Saudis and nonSaudis in public shopping malls talking and breaking bead with them at one dining table, “fool and tamees,” and passing food around the people.
These public visits could have political backlashes, especially those visits to some Saudi poor families, in the light of the Saudi strong economic status as an oil-producing country. But, this shows the political realism practiced by King Abdullah. Poverty is a universal phenomenon. It will continue as long as humanity exists, and it could be found in the richest country in the world. Acknowledgment of this phenomenon, however, only shows the government’s determination to solve it, or contain it to its lowest levels.
On the other hand, the indirect impact is that those visits worked as an adhesive that bonds together the leadership with the people by eliminating the psychological aura that usually separates a royalty and commoner in other countries, and at the same time, both are showing mutual respect. The king never appeared as if he is any different from his people by maintaining a power-distance from them, and with personal comfort and ease people of different nationalities were hugging him and holding his hands.
Saudis and non-Saudis alike, in turn, celebrated the king’s presence among them in various ways. With no government pre-arranged political advertisements, the Saudi masses made their own pictures, pins, stickers of the king, with symbols that best describe their personal perceptions and sentiments. All of these symbolic representations of him manifested in snapshots and texts can be seen on their cars, textbooks, notebooks, homes and national attire. These are indications of their natural affection for the king.
People’s likability of King Abdullah is evidently present in the snapshots and the texts selected that convey symbolic meanings, representing their heartfelt feelings toward him. The snapshots display the king putting a Saudi-style trimmed beard that most of our fathers and grandfathers prefer. The texts repeatedly say: “The Falcon of Arabism”. Both snapshots and texts convey a meaning of a continuation of an immense pride in the Saudi rich heritage. The narrative of this heritage can be found in Saudi folklore and history textbooks passed on from one generation to another. A narrative that emphasis nobility, cavalry, bravery, hospitality, and generosity, and, in their eyes, King Abdullah is a representation of those genuine Arab qualities.
With respect to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ public domestic policies, it can be explored by examining the underlying objectives of development policy during the king’s reign. His government has presented generous budget in previous years, and the last budget was historical in all aspects. This budget covers major projects involving formal and higher education, health care, housing, welfare programs and basic infrastructure.
Thus, King Abdullah’s domestic public policy is focused on extensive human development programs and aims at raising living standards of the Saudi citizens. For instance, higher education policy equally covers human development of male and female students by establishing new universities and colleges and expanding the existing ones; providing the opportunity to both sexes to travel abroad on scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies, and granting them financial assistance to enroll in private local universities and colleges.
This is an indication that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is giving his attention to the empowerment of Saudi women, first, through education, and then expanding their role in public life. Moreover, various social programs were initiated to address unemployment and poverty. Those programs would take their due time in achieving their desired objectives, but soon, by the will of Allah, the Saudi society would be distinctly characterized by highly educated Saudis that are enjoying high levels of living standards.
As for King Abdullah’s international public policy, Saudi Arabia remained consistent in supporting Arab and Muslim solidarity. However, the most significant international political crises that Saudi Arabia unexpectedly faced were the strained political relationship with the United States after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; and the recent diplomatic crisis with the Republic of Egypt, which led to the recall of the Saudi ambassador to Cairo. These two political crises involved two countries that Saudi Arabia has long-standing strategic relationships with.
King Abdullah’s management of these two crises shows his political realism and statesmanship. In contrast to what some leaders might choose to manage similar crises, King Abdullah’s style exhibits personal character and extreme political maturity. It is a style that attests to his wisdom and farsightedness in reconstructing admirably good diplomatic relationships with two vital allies of Saudi Arabia with least consequences. Nonetheless, Iran’s threat to Saudi Arabia and Arabian Gulf countries’ security remains a pressing and annoying geopolitical situation that needs to be resolved in the same fashion.
With the guidance of Almighty Allah, and then the good will and affection that hold Saudis with their king, we can together navigate through the troubled local and international seas to the shores of progress and prosperity.
Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh
([email protected])
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”