Since King Salman acceded to the throne in January 2015 and appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince in June 2017, Saudis have been keenly awaiting the fresh direction our new leadership would take us in and its results. King Salman was particularly suited to this phase in our country’s history, as he served almost 50 years as governor of Riyadh, the heart of our country, where he had to deftly manage all the different constituents that make up the Kingdom. He gained valuable experience and trust in dealing with the religious establishment, playing the foremost role in mending the fences of possible cultural and societal divides. In addition, the crown prince crosses the generational divide, readying the young generation for a promising future. Together, our king and crown prince dutifully carry the present, informed by the past, into a promising future for our country.
Changes have been underway in Saudi Arabia for some time, not least through the arrival of the age of the internet, which, escaping traditional forms of authority, opened up exchanges of information between many diverse peoples. We found that our Saudi girls and boys were confident in connecting with each other and with the world without the need for any intervention of authority to limit their exchanges. I imagine the numerous 13-year-old girls from conservative religious families in our country who answer their father’s convictions that such exchanges are haram with the exclamation, “Dad, what century are we living in?” Our youth has not run away from us; instead, they have applied responsibility, awareness and trust to new exchanges, dismissing old folk tales in favor of healthy questioning and exploring the opportunities that lie ahead for them in a new Saudi Arabia. We are lucky that our age of enlightenment did not follow centuries of conflict and death, like in Europe, but instead emanated from the sharing of knowledge through those small phones that our children are seemingly glued to.
The youth of Saudi Arabia saw the shadow of darkness clearing and followed along until the light shone in. The crown prince had been holding the candle that this light emanated from — and that candle became a powerful generator running on fuel, and now the energy of solar, wind and hydrogen power. We witnessed the joy and the promise of the changes underway this year on Saudi National Day, Sept. 23, marking the day our country was born in 1932. We did not much celebrate that holiday before, but today it has taken on new meaning as an expression of the hope, joy and camaraderie that mark the lives of Saudis turned toward an ever-brightening future. We saw boys and girls waving Saudi flags in the streets, with songs, parades and a palpable sense of pride and joy in celebrating our joint 89th birthday. That day has taken on a powerful and hopeful new meaning.
Every morning now, Saudis wake up excited; they see the changes underway daily in their country, read the latest decrees and feel the hope and limitless dreams of Vision 2030. As we go about our days, we almost forget what a dramatic change it has been to see women take on their role throughout our workforce, respected in the office and present in the highest positions of all sectors of society. It is finally normal for women to drive themselves to work, meeting respect not harassment, picking up their kids from school after work, or running a few errands. Women already played a very strong and respected role in our society, as reflected in the name of one of our most important cities, Jeddah, the grandmother, something I have not seen elsewhere. Where that role used to be largely limited to the home, now women’s roles and horizons have expanded for the good of all; they are the custodians of our future.
When Saudi mothers and fathers gather at the dinner table and call their children to ask where they are, they are happy when they hear that their girl or boy is still at work. We are all swept up in the optimism and dynamism that we are seeing evidenced throughout our country. The culture of Arabia is evolving, and we are joyful in every aspect of our lives, happy to see women drive around to run important errands and happy to see our children working late, catching up on earlier years of greater rigidity. There is something promising and joyful in the air. As William Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Saudi Arabia today is that stage and men and women together are playing the key roles.
The pride of the new Saudi Arabia is not built on any kind of nationalistic propaganda; it is built on the awakening of individuals who are embracing their new positions in society and making up for lost time by building something meaningful for all. It comes down to the trust earned by our leadership, as we witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic, when Saudis dutifully wore their masks and got vaccinated, trusting that their government had their backs and was following the best advice. The government and people are today more united than ever in Saudi Arabia, as mutual trust allows us to contribute to our country’s progress together.
This new Saudi confidence looks out at the world today and is somewhat puzzled by all the conflict and infighting seen in other places. In too many parts of the world, fear and suspicion currently dominate, while Saudis experience hope, joy and the desire to focus on ideas and not fear, on cooperation and not conflict. We are also strongly aware of the global challenges that face us all today, particularly the ever-increasing warnings we have received from Mother Earth. On the virus we were sent, we must not forget that a vaccine is a temporary solution to a far greater problem that we must face. On the environment, we all made mistakes.
It is my hope that Saudi Arabia and its new spirit will serve as an inspiration to the world. What Saudi Arabia is showing the world today is how the combination of a trusted leadership and individuals willing to come together to participate in implementing new ideas can offer not just solutions, but also optimism and joy.
• 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.