I have chosen this biography because it summarizes many meanings. Maj. Gen. Saeed Jawdat was initially an officer in the Turkish garrison that was defeated by the forces of King Abdul Aziz. He appeared before the king, who ordered his release, together with the other prisoners of war, and gave him a choice of either returning to Turkey or joining his forces. Jawdat chose to join this great leader. Some of his comrades also joined him, while others returned home.
Jawdat joined the ranks of the new Saudi forces and was later trusted enough by the founding king to be assigned to one of the highest-ranking and most important positions, that is Commander of the Royal Guard.
King Abdul Aziz was an exceptional personality. He was neither narrow-minded nor fanatic. Indeed, he possessed a futuristic vision which surpassed those of his contemporaries among regional leaders, qualifying him to build a state with great ambitions; and all those whom he fought and defeated were later included in the institutions of his state.
King Abdul Aziz founded a modern kingdom that would accommodate all, and included in his government and court, along with tribal leaders and community dignitaries, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Libyans and others. He offered them the nationality of the new state and they became his men. Some of them fought behind him and others served his modern state. Saudi Arabia was a poor country then, without oil; yet those men left their home countries because of their belief in him and in his project.
This story may summarize what some of those, who today have a parochial view of their society, cannot understand. They only see a small country with limited resources and only dream of modest ambitions. They are terrified that non-Saudis would be naturalized regardless of whether they legally qualify for naturalization or not, although this is not true.
Fears of the onslaught of foreigners dissolving the community are becoming public concerns that are sweeping many countries, like Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, Britain, the United States and others, raising calls for exclusionism that must protect the nation’s purity.
Thus, this racism is not limited to the Saudis; rather, it is one of the results of free market competition and unemployment queues. Expressions of this attitude have been helped by the means of easy, fast and free communications, causing disagreements between the closed-minded and the open-minded, the anxious and the confident, and the short-sighted and those with big ambitions. Most of them, on both sides, are well-intentioned and only desire to protect themselves, their children and their interests; but maybe they are being led by ill-intentioned people.
We have just been relieved of the restrictions of a group that called itself “religious awakening,” which for two decades succeeded in spreading the idea of excluding those who disagreed with it, having made Islam its own monopoly. And now we have those who claim that only they and their kin represent the homeland, excluding all others.
But there are constant facts that no one can change, no matter what they do or wish. The state is for all, not for some people, no matter how loud their voices are, or how deeply-rooted they may be.
Saudi Arabia has been a progressive state for nearly 90 years and its population includes people from China, Russia, India, Britain and many other countries — this is a great advantage and a source of pride for us and for them.
The laws of the state and its constitution are the authority, not bragging or name-calling. He who was nationalized yesterday is a full citizen and enjoys the same rights as others who preceded him.
Jawdat was an Iraqi Kurd from the Turkish army, yet King Abdul Aziz made him a citizen of the state. He did the same with Dr. Abdullah Al-Damluji, also an Iraqi from the Turkish army, who chose to work with King Abdul Aziz and became a Saudi citizen. Likewise there were other personalities, including Youssef Yassin and Dr. Rashad Pharaon, who came from Syria, Hafez Wahba from Egypt, Khaled Al-Qarqani from Libya, and many others. Later, when Saud became king, he kept them; and it was familiar too to see people like Pharaon in the court of King Faisal.
Hence, it is not true that naturalization is heresy, nor is the state based on the interests of some but not others. Saudi Arabia has been a progressive state for nearly 90 years, and its population includes people from China, Russia, India, Britain, and many other countries. This is a great advantage and a source of pride for us and for them; and the ideas of division and sorting serve only those who wish to sow the seeds of weakness and fragmentation in our society. No one wants to put foreigners before citizens.
Nationality is the primacy of almost all countries, but we must not confuse concepts such as employment and naturalization. We have a great country, great opportunities, and a leadership with great ambitions — far greater than being limited to arguments from past centuries.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed.