Western media wakes up to the Saudi transformation
Where once Saudi Arabia was — sometimes justifiably — criticized for the slow pace of change, for restrictions on women’s rights and for aspects of traditionalism and conservatism, today there is genuine excitement at seeing our country evolve and seeing the potential we are unleashing by giving women the equality they deserve and by becoming a modernizing and innovating country. When the giants of the British and American press publish analyses by their most experienced commentators that highlight what we are doing right, while fairly noting areas that need further improvement, we can say that the mood has definitely changed. The media is shifting from an “I got you” approach to Saudi Arabia toward an approach of constructive criticism.
The most obvious change, of course, is that Saudi Arabia has been evolving at a faster pace than the West was used to, while Western democracies seem to be running into increasing trouble and potentially damaging populism. Smart analysts take note that there is something afoot in Saudi Arabia, and that there could be far-reaching positive consequences. As Iain Millership wrote in The Independent, Saudi Arabia’s “is the most significant reform process happening anywhere in the Middle East. If it succeeds, it will change the region and perhaps the world.” The headline on David Ignatius’ Washington Post article this month, following a trip to Saudi Arabia, reads: “Are Saudi Arabia’s reforms for real? A recent visit says yes.” Clearly, Western commentators feel that there is something afoot. There is also another aspect, namely that the traditional media’s old “I got you” approach is now moot, as social networks specialize in these barbs second-by-second, and we are rather used to and overexposed to them.
When the giants of the British and American press publish analyses by their most experienced commentators that highlight what Saudi Arabia is doing right, while fairly noting areas that need further improvement, we can say that the mood has definitely changed.
Hassan bin Youssef Yassin
The constructive criticism we have seen from major media outlets in recent weeks and months is a truly encouraging sign, allowing us to move forward and perhaps opening up a new role also for the media as an assistant or accelerator of positive change. In this new era, a Saudi Arabia once misunderstood and unwilling to share issues is now identifying and tackling problems as they appear, taking important decisions, and not hesitating to adjust or correct them speedily if they do not work as intended. Prince Mohammed has applied his gift of taking a broad overview and analysis to simplify the next stages of decision-making very well. If the media is willing to highlight these positive steps and assist in pushing things further forward, then we are happy to let them play that role for the common good.
- Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.