During his visit to the Kingdom, French President Francois Hollande came up with a very important statement. He said that he came to Saudi Arabia to consolidate friendly ties with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and not to sign economic contracts. He said that this is despite the fact that relations among states are, on the whole, based on economic considerations. Here we see how the French etiquette was practiced. He wanted to underline the human and cultural dimensions of the bilateral relations and not only the economic ones. Perhaps that is why Riyadh always makes sure that the staff at its diplomatic mission in Paris speak French. Some of the staff — such as the ambassador, the cultural attaché Dr. Ibrahim Al-Bluwi, Abdullah Al-Khatib and Dr. Ziyad Al-Dreis in UNESCO — completed higher education in French. In addition to that, Saudi intellectuals respect the French sociological, intellectual and political thinking.
Unlike President Sarkozy who had a different outlook about the French culture, Hollande attached great importance to human considerations in his political conduct. In his press conference, he said that he had heard from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques good words about human rights and women's rights. Though it was a smart reference on the part of the French president, evidence suggests that King Abdullah is moving toward implementing the reform project.
According to the French perception, actual reform means changes in social, cultural, economic and political domain. There are no ready-made recipes for reform to be implemented or imposed by external forces. Reform is linked to the society, its nature and the extent of its civility. There is a need for education reform in Arab countries before even talking about political reform. In one of the Arab countries that conducted parliamentary elections without previous preparations or political education and without taking into account the democratic values, a citizen answered a question about what democracy means to him saying it means he can slur people and attack a police officer and get away with that. He also said that democracy entitles him to accuse an official who may ask for his ID.
The Kingdom seeks a gradual reform — setting up the infrastructure and providing quality education in accordance with King Abdullah's scholarship program. This is exactly how the state will be able to bring about cultural, social and administrative changes in the country. Any observer will notice that Gulf countries have attached great importance to human development and have focused on education.
We always ask what benefits did the Arab communists derive from the communist era. The Soviet Union collapsed and much of the political and ideological thinking vanished. We all know that legislation can be beneficial if it is based on values.
Moderation has a great value. The Holy Qur'an says: "And keep not thy hand chained to thy neck, nor stretch it out an entire stretching, lest thou sit down blamed or exhausted." In order to ensure moderation in everything, Islam emphasizes the use of science for the benefit of human beings and not for their destruction. Additionally, Islam acknowledges the importance of change and considers it inevitable for a society, country and individuals. Saudi Arabia, relying on the Qur'an and the Sunnah, realizes the importance of reform. Since 2005, the vision of King Abdullah about reform and development has been on course. The pace of reform may be seen as slow by foreign observers, who have their own views on different issues. Similarly, we have our own views. We, for instance, oppose prosecuting veiled women in France. We consider the French law as biased.
In the same way, what the French and the Americans consider as democracy is not necessarily the way we see it. They talk about equality but we believe in justice. There is a vital difference between the two. They believe in absolute freedom of an individual while we believe that such liberty should not allow anybody to misuse freedom.
The West does not support civil society or human rights groups unless it is for political reasons. We are against foreign funds and against civil society organizations that accept funds from foreign intelligence bodies. Sarkozy went crazy when he discovered that the French left found out that he got millions from Qaddafi to win re-election. He did not keep silent but used all his power to crush Qaddafi and kill him. In the United States, President Obama can raise funds but he is not allowed to receive one single dollar from foreign source.
During the 1990s, the blacks in the United States demonstrated demanding freedom and economic emancipation. In 2010, demonstrators took to the streets in the American cities and in Britain. The state used force to disperse demonstrators. This shows their double standard. We are against using force but at the same time against those who create law and order problem.
In our country, reform is under way and there are a number of significant changes that have taken place and that the king had told the French president about them. What we need is reform in the education sector. We send our children to various universities all over the world in order to equip them with the best knowledge. They observe the progress in these societies and get attracted by them. Hence, it is imperative that we focus on education and also on progress that can bring our society at par with the developed ones.