As a graduate of Berkeley in the 1950s, I am, no doubt, one of the earliest Saudi graduates from an American university. Hundreds of thousands of Saudis have since graduated from colleges in the US since then, when travel was far more difficult than today.
I believe I speak for all when I say we remember the time spent in the States very fondly, and remain deeply grateful for the education, experiences and opportunities we received. America is a very attaching place — a country with a bigger smile, and a bigger heart, than anywhere we know.
Indeed, many of us went on to work in the US, some married Americans, and no small number of us sent our own children to American universities.
Next week, the US will choose its president for the coming four years. Every election year is a chance for us all to focus on a country we have great affection for, observing how America is evolving, watching Americans debate issues that matter to them, and deciding how best to meet the challenges of the future.
Relatively speaking, the US is a very young country and polity, gaining its independence in 1776. Nonetheless, America has been by far the most written about — and talked about — country of the last century. Every day is a new step on the road of innovation and reinvention that deserves careful commentary. One of America’s most astute observers remains one of its earliest: Alexis de Tocqueville, who published “On Democracy in America” in the 1830s. Two things he wrote about America then still ring particularly true to me today.
First, “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” At the same time, he believed: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
By this view it is possible for it to sometimes lose its way or its sense of direction, but the foundations of the country and its honed habit of course-correction make it likely that De Tocqueville’s initial impressions of greatness and goodness will always be honored.
In Saudi Arabia, we wish the US the best, and cannot wait to see where it turns next. Importantly, whomever Americans select as their next president, Saudi Arabia will work closely with the next administration, as we always have.
Some people are surprised that so many Saudis — and not only the US graduates among us — hold America so dearly in our hearts. I think there is a straightforwardness in our manners, and a habit of welcoming and valuing our guests, that makes it very easy for Saudis to fit into American society.
We students made lifelong friends and developed a lasting attachment to America’s kind people. Americans are also proud to see people from different cultures share in their peace, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Each one of us has his or her own story to tell about what we learned from its people. We are grateful for everything we received from this unique country, and we are proud also to have contributed. In a country that values diversity, our differences and disagreements with American friends were sources of valuable discussion and learning.
It continues to be a mutually beneficial exchange. We Saudis love to talk about America, for we remain magnetized by the country. That is why every few years, we spend months discussing America’s elections, evaluating where America stands and which direction she will embark upon.
Presidential and mid-term elections always offer great drama, debate and, ultimately, impact lives, but also affect the entire world. From these elections we see presidents or majorities in the House or Senate emerge that will determine the course America will take for years. We love to debate the possibilities, because America, after all, is the land of possibility and opportunity.
Each one of us Saudi graduates of American universities has his or her preference with regard to the politics we would like to see America espouse. We all share the same confidence, though, in America’s institutions and its election processes that continually produce fresh approaches and a spirit of reinvention to address the issues of the day. That is what these elections are primarily about: Evaluating where America stands and how it can best address the challenges of the future.
It is a good thing too, for at the end of the day it is the stability and future of our planet as a whole that lies in the balance.
America’s economic and political decisions affect everything from the price of gold to the price of corn; from the potential resolution of conflicts to the hopes of young people around the world. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Our cause is the cause of all mankind, and we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.”
Many of us Saudi alumni of American universities will no doubt be staying up late on election night, enjoying the bubbling spectacle of US democracy and sharing in the hopes this represents for the four years to come. We are all used to marveling at American movies, but this is a time when we marvel at the reality of America and her constant reinvention.
In Saudi Arabia, we wish the
US the best, and cannot wait to see where it turns next. Importantly, whomever Americans select as their next president, Saudi Arabia will work closely with the next administration, as we always have.
• 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.