The long reach of soft power
The ability of nations to project power is multifold. The United States has the backing of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the largest economy in the world, and huge military resources that allow it to do things that no other nation in the history of the world can. It can choose the when and where it wishes to dispose its interests and reserves the right to determine the measure of decisiveness that is unmatched. As formidable as Washington is on the account of this agglomeration of power, where it has unparalleled reach is its soft power.
Irrespective of whatever concerns and misgivings held by others, it is impossible to go outside one’s residence and not see the United States. Procter & Gamble have consumer products that are estimated to be in upwards of 90 percent of households throughout the Middle East. US clothing trends are considered by many throughout the globe as the ones to emulate. American movies and cultural entertainment are to be found throughout the world. Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Adobe, Ford, Boeing, GE, and many other American brands are commonplace as everyday features of life. As much as an aircraft carrier group, or special forces, or air force, it’s the soft power of the US that makes it unique.
Irrespective of whatever shortcomings it may have, this feature is paramount. Until another country can do globally what Washington does, and on the same magnitude, it will be hard to replace it as the sole superpower. So what examples does it set, and what can be used as a model for others? Perhaps even more audacious than this line of questioning is, does Saudi Arabia possess the same capabilities?
Starting with the obvious, Saudi Arabia is the center of the Muslim world and custodian of the two holy cities. This, coupled with the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had his very feet tread the soil of Saudi Arabia, is something we should never forget is the greatest asset that we possess for being a springboard for humanity and all that is just. The world’s Muslims face in the direction of Makkah and Madinah for prayer and at one point in their lives they will visit Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.
What better example does one have to reach the global populace than this? It is our identity and our heritage. It is a fundamental part of Vision 2030 which is not just a goal to be reached, but is the everyday policy of the Kingdom itself. It is redundant to discuss the vast amounts of hydrocarbons that lie within the confines of the country. But what of its investment potential on a global scale? Prince Alwaleed bin Talal gave an interview in which he displayed one thing that we should never forget. The world, was watching his every word, carefully listening to his every sentence regarding the global investment environment. One man, one citizen of our nation had the power to either put wind in the sails of investment topic x, or halt momentum on his recommendation alone. Kingdom Holdings is simply a glimmer of the nation’s potential. It is a volcano of soft power that is waiting to emerge and touch all corners of the globe.
But there is an even greater story that is underway, and is emerging as one of the brightest chapters in the nation’s history. Prince Alwaleed mentioned that humanitarian and philanthropic causes is simply an extension of Zakat, one of the five pillars that define the very identity of being a Muslim. The King Salman Foundation has very quietly been working from Africa to Asia, throughout the Middle East and even in the Americas. With the emergence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as one of the youngest heads of state in the world our students abroad are matching his example and efforts. The students of Saudi Arabia have engaged in local community projects such as hurricane relief efforts, aid distribution, working at food shelters and local community outreach initiatives, among many others.
There is a story to tell here — one of a burgeoning regional power which legitimately has a place on the global stage in many arenas. It is only the reflection of hard-earned prosperity, one of our forefathers could have scarcely imagined, a story of using these blessings to develop a strong, modern nation, with global recognition, and one that has scarcely used all that is available to it to reach its rightful place. The strength of Saudi Arabia is its people, its multi-talented populace. Its strength is the positive impact that its citizens chose to make abroad every day.
• Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst. Twitter: @Mr_Alshammeri