The wave of protest on social media against Saudi Arabia’s modernization plan represents those that fear change.
These uncontrolled objections do in fact highlight the credit due to the Saudi government — for its struggle to empower women, stand against religious extremism, encourage social openness and get rid of the dependence on oil. Thanks in part to those objecting to change in Saudi Arabia, the world can now perceive the Saudi government as the leader of change.
Those who think what is happening in Saudi Arabia is only limited to the Kingdom are unaware of the fact that it goes beyond the Saudi borders, especially at a time governed by international standards rather than local ones.
The modernization challenges of Saudi Arabia coincide with bold and massive economic changes. Social modernization and substantial economic development are tasks undertaken by the government. Those criticizing Saudi Arabia are unaware of the difficulty of the change process, especially on the social level.
When it comes to the country’s modernization plans, protesters have the right to raise their voices — but change is stronger.
The government’s initiatives include the growth of women’s employment in public and private sectors, giving them remarkable government positions. This is also helping end the youth brain-drain that has also harmed the economy.
The government’s plans also cover the eradication of extremism from educational institutions, modernizing the official media and introducing entertainment activities through cinema, concerts and popular events.
There is no doubt that these programs will face severe objections from some. After years of rising extremism, it is normal to have enclaves refusing any attempt to improve the aspects of life. These enclaves are resorting to all possible means to incite people against changes.
Ironically, today’s suggested modernization in Saudi Arabia would mean a step back to the past, namely the 1960s and 1970s era. Much that is refused now was permitted back then.
All societies that have passed through the waves of change were also faced with objections. For instance, I remember when Britain decided to open shops on Sundays; the step was rejected under the pretext of the sanctity of the community’s traditions. But the wind of change proved stronger than the objections.
There is no nation that has not been affected by change and modernization that might not have pleased everyone. Protesters have the right to object, but the change is stronger. This is why some of them resort to the most dangerous weapons of intimidation, and they misuse religious platforms to offend others.
Those who express conservative ideas in the name of defending “traditions” and hard-line religious interpretations are not aware of the danger they are putting their country into. Restricting the role of women is harming families on the financial level and depriving them of possible additional money, at a time when the income of the breadwinner is no longer sufficient.
The society and government cannot pay this high cost, which is threatening the future, where oil revenues will not be able to fulfill the needs. If we want to solve this, we must resort to change. This is not for the sake of entertainment itself, or dealing with foreign criticism — but rather for the sake of this country, its existence and future prosperity.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, a veteran columnist, is former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.