How Saudi Arabia turned back to the future

Children decked out in ‘all green’ for Saudi National Day celebrations on Jeddah’s Tahlia Street. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 24 September 2019

How Saudi Arabia turned back to the future

  • When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged to bring back moderate Islam, he referenced a time before the developments of 1979 halted the Kingdom’s progress

Saudi Arabia was on a roll in the 1970s, enjoying the social and cultural developments that had begun in the previous two decades, and buoyed by the rising price of oil and the Kingdom’s first Development Plan.

But 1979 changed everything. Saudi Arabia took a conservative turn, prompted by two events: the Iranian Revolution in February, which brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and the siege by religious extremists of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. 


OPINION: Reconnecting with the past, reimagining the future (Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief, Arab News)


As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told 2017’s Future Investment Initiative: “We were not like this in the past. We only want to go back to what we were, the moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all the religions … And quite frankly, we will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas … We want to live a normal life, a life that translates our moderate religion, our good customs.”

And that’s what has happened. Under Vision 2030 and a flurry of life-altering developments – movies and concerts, greater freedom for women, fitness in schools, to name just a few – the Kingdom is on a trajectory back to the future.


— THEN —


1955 - Saudi Arabia’s first private school for girls, Dar Al-Hanan, is founded in Jeddah by Princess Effat, with the support of her husband, Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, amid a social outcry. 


Read more: Saudi schooling goes back to the future


1960 - Royal decree approves public education for girls; schools are established in Riyadh, Makkah and other cities.

1962 - The non-profit women’s organization, Al-Nahda, is established by Princess Effat and a number of prominent Saudi women.

1963 

  • The Council of Ministers approves a project to establish television in the Kingdom.
  • The Department of Youth Welfare (previously the Department of Sport) creates four federations: volleyball, basketball, athletic and cycling.

1965 - King Faisal approves the first national television broadcast, a reading of the Qur’an, amid protests from conservatives.




King Faisal (right) and US President Richard Nixon.

  • The first TV broadcast in Saudi Arabia is launched from the US Consulate in Dhahran; “The Eye of the Desert” is broadcast in English and only to the Dhahran area. 

Read more: Saudis look back on the dawn of broadcasting on Saudi National Day 


1957

  • The Kingdom’s first institute of higher education, King Saud University, is opened in Riyadh.
  • The launch of Aramco TV, with a wider broadcasting range that reaches Al-Hofuf and other areas across the Gulf. Broadcasts are in both Arabic and English.

OPINION: The 1970s — a seismic decade for Saudi Arabia’s economy  (Frank Kane)


Read more: Mark Lowey, known by his Saudi friends as AbuJack, offers never seen images of the real Saudi during the 1970s


1979

IRANIAN REVOLUTION

January 22 - Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his wife leave Tehran.

February 1 - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran from exile in France.

February 11 - Khomeini officially assumes power when troops loyal to the shah surrender.

February 16 - Iran’s revolutionary authorities start executions of leading supporters of the shah, including four top generals.

November 4 - US embassy in Tehran stormed by Iranian students who take 52 Americans hostage, demanding the extradition of the shah.


OPINION: Why Iran’s ‘Awakening’ created a nightmare for the Gulf  (Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami)



SIEGE OF MAKKAH’S GRAND MOSQUE

November 20 - A well-organized group led by Saudi militant Juhayman Al-Otaibi storms the Grand Mosque with weapons smuggled in coffins and vehicles using members pretending to be there to pray. Al-Otaibi is a member of Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-




Militants arrested after the Makkah Siege of 1979 are escorted to prison. (File photo) 

Muhtasiba (Salafi Group that Commands Right and Forbids Wrong), which is angered by Western social influence, women’s presence in the Saudi workforce, TV and other issues. Worshippers are prevented from leaving after the announcement of a takeover over a microphone. Hostages are forced to pledge allegiance to the group’s leader, Mohammed bin Abduallah Al-Qahtani, Al-Otaibi and their followers.

December 4 - The siege lasts for two weeks and ends after an intervention by Saudi special forces and their allies, leaving hundreds dead, including Saudi officers, soldiers and civilians as well as Al-Qahtani and his followers. Al-Otaibi is arrested and executed on Jan. 9, 1980.


Read more: 





Arab News Saudi National Day cover wrap by collage artist Peter Quinnell. Check it out: https://tinyurl.com/y2cwarqo 


— NOW —


2016

  • Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveils Vision 2030, a road map for Saudi Arabia’s future.
  • The Saudi Cabinet approves a new law restricting the religious police from questioning, pursuing or arresting violators; they must instead report them to the police or anti-narcotics officers.

Read more: Saudi women celebrate new freedoms on Saudi National Day 


  • Princess Reema bint Bandar is appointed vice president for women’s affairs at the General Sports Authwority.
  • Kariman Abuljadayel is the first Saudi woman to compete in the 100-meter event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

Read more: Sporting success puts Saudi Arabia on track for glory on Saudi National Day


  • The General Authority for Entertainment and the General Sports Authority are established by royal decree.

2017

  • King Salman appoints Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince ofSaudi Arabia.
  • The Saudi Stock Exchange appoints a woman, Sarah Al-Suhaimi, as chairperson for the first time.

     

  • In one of the first public music performances in many years, Mohammed Abdo performs for a men-only audience in Jeddah.

  • Giga-projects are launched: NEOM, a $500-billion megacity in theTabuk region, and the RedSea tourism project.
  • Saudi state schools announce that they will offer physical education classes for female students.
  • At the inaugural Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledges a return to moderate Islam.

2018

  • Female fans are allowed to attend football matches for the first time in Saudi Arabia; the match was Al-Ahli vs. Al-Batin in Jeddah on Jan. 12. 
  • Ending a 35-year ban on cinemas, the first commercial movie theater opens in Riyadh with a screening of “Black Panther” on April 18.
  • A ban on Saudi women driving is lifted on June 24.
  • An anti-harassment law, approved by the Shoura Council, receives praise from around the world.
  • King Salman launches plans for Qiddiya, expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city.
  • The Culture Ministry, headed by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al-Saud, is established.

Read more: Saudi Arabia’s ‘cultural rebirth’ in spotlight on Saudi National Day


  • Al-Ahsa Oasis is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Weam Al-Dakheel becomes the first Saudi woman to anchor the main evening news on Saudi TV.
  • Enrique Iglesias, Amr Diab and the Black Eyed Peas are among the first international performers at the Formula E in Riyadh, for which the first trial tourist visas are granted.
  • The WWE’s Royal Rumble takes place at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, beginning a 10-year partnership with the General Sports Authority.

2019

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launches a mega tourism project in AlUla which will include a resort designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve dubbed Sharaan.

     

  • Lubna Al-Olayan becomes the first Saudi chairwoman to run a Saudi bank, a merger between Alawwal and Saudi British Bank.
  • Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador, Princess Reema bint Bandar (top center), is appointed to Washington.
  • The Saudi Cabinet approves a “Privileged Iqama residency permit,” which will allow foreign nationals to work and live in Saudi Arabia without a sponsor, offered to highly skilled expatriates and owners of capital funds.
  • By royal decree, Saudi women no longer require permission from a male guardian to travel or obtain a passport.
  • A lineup of superstars perform in concerts across the Kingdom: Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and 50 Cent in Jeddah; Andrea Bocelli in AlUla; Pitbull and Akon in the Eastern Province.
  • High-profile sports events include the Italian Super Cup between Juventus and AC Milan; Fight Night between world boxing champion Amir Khan and Billy Dib; and the largest Battle Royale in WWE history.

FULL COVERAGE OF SAUDI NATIONAL DAY 2019 >>


Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

Updated 08 December 2019

Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

  • The attack, in which a Saudi gunman killed three Americans, is viewed as an act that does not represent Saudi people
  • The OIC has said the attacker did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people

From the king and top-level Saudi government officials to everyday Saudi citizens, all are united in condemning the attack on a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, calling it as “un-Islamic” and barbaric.

The shooting of three Americans by a Saudi gunman was an individual attack that does not represent the Kingdom’s people, it has been widely  stressed. 

For decades, many Saudis have lived in the US for work or attended universities across many states, becoming their own ambassadors. 

Nedda Akhonbay, a communications professional working in Jeddah, expressed her sadness when she heard the news.

“My condolences go out to the families of the victims as I hope they find peace in their lives after facing such a tragedy. As a Saudi-American and having spent many formative years in the US and made friends who became like family, I thought this attack was very close to home and I hope both people work together to get past it.”

“As a student who lived in the States, I never faced any problems for being a Muslim,” said Alaa Sendi, an American-Saudi lecturer working in Jeddah University.

Having obtained a PhD in electrical engineering, Dr. Nazih Al-Othmani lived between the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania for ten years in the late 1990s and was in the US during the 9/11 attacks. He recalled how Americans understood that such atrocious attacks never represented a community, and this one was no exception.

“The tragic event that took place yesterday does not represent us, this attack is unacceptable regardless of any reason and no sane person can ever accept it,” he said. “I lived in the States for many years, I was also there on 9/11, and made many American friends throughout my time there. They stood by us, they helped us, protected us and our relationship was very civil and courteous. We need to stand together to combat this dangerous tendency that can be found in every community.”

The attack at the US naval station in Pensacola, Florida, was the second incident at an American military base in this week, following another shooting at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Wednesday. (AFP)

Many Saudis are angered over the actions of this one individual. Dr. Al-Othmani expressed his concerns about those who would take advantage of the situation and try to point a finger at Saudis.

“Though right-wingers will take advantage of the event and attack Saudi Arabia, I don’t believe many Americans will see it that way. Americans are aware enough to differentiate between the nationality of an individual and his actions,” he said.

Al-Othmani recommends that Saudi students communicate, cooperate and extend a hand of friendship to their respective communities.

In the decades of friendship and cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, many Americans have come to work in the Kingdom and some have made it their home. 

Dr. Alia Mitchell, vice dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, is an American citizen who has been a Muslim for more than 30 years and has lived in the Kingdom for more than 20 years. She has chosen to live in the Kingdom as she sees the beauty of the religion interwoven into society, one that she believes is not represented by the shooter. 

“When something tragic that happens like this, it’s on the individual,” she said. “it doesn’t go back to the community or the society.

“I’m still sickened and mostly very, very saddened with this tragedy,” said Melanie H. “I’ve a son the same age as the shooter and can’t imagine what the pain and grief his actions would do to me as a parent. To learn that your son has caused so much hell… that he has taken others’ lives.”

She said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia for over 10 years and I have experienced Saudi’s hospitality, warmth — nothing like what I imagined or expected before arriving. It isn’t perfect but then what country or nation is?” 

“Now that the country has opened its doors to the world, people really shouldn’t judge the book by its cover especially when criminals like this shooter make such a false, misleading cover.” 

Melanie H continued: “Do not judge a people by an individual — that’s what we Americans are all about. No judging.”


ALSO READ

• King Salman leads Saudi official condemnations of Florida attack

He doesn’t represent us’: Saudis tweet in solidarity with Americans over Florida Navy base shooting

 Florida shooting ‘nothing to do with gunman’s family, tribe’


“This crime does not represent us as Saudis,” said Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, minister of Islamic Affairs, on his personal Twitter account. “We reject such criminal acts and we sympathize with the injured and the families of the victims. It is a horrible crime and a dishonest act.

“We condemn crimes anywhere and anytime, and we stress our complete rejection of such horrible criminal acts which Islam forbids.”

Saudi scholar and Imam of Quba Mosque in Madinah Saleh Al-Maghamsi shared the same notion. He said: “This incident should be stripped away from religion and from the country to which whoever committed this criminal act is affiliated. The Shariah does not approve of this act for it violates the texts of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet, which is based on the principle of no bloodshed. Logic also does not approve of this action.” 

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the aggressor did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people and all Muslims who believe in tolerance, moderation and coexistence.

The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia also condemned the shooting incident in Florida and called it a heinous crime. 

Describing it as a crime against humanity, the senior scholars stressed that such actions were against the true teachings of Islam. They said that the Saudi people will continue to uphold their noble values and contribute to the progress and prosperity of the world and humanity.