Today SUSRIS provided an exclusive interview with Samar Fatany, broadcaster, journalist, commentator and author, about her new book, “Modernizing Saudi Arabia.” We recommend you read the exclusive interview to learn more about the currents of change in the Kingdom. Meanwhile, here we provide for your consideration several excerpts from the book including the foreword by Stephen L. Brundage.
We commend Samar’s “Modernizing Saudi Arabia” to your reading list and suggest you order a copy for your friends and colleagues so they too will have an understanding of what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, why it’s happening and what more they can expect to see happen.
From Samar Fatany’s “Modernizing Saudi Arabia” Introduction
This book portrays ambitious government initiatives to implement reforms and describes progressive attempts to help Saudi Arabia meet the challenges of the 21st century. It gives an overall picture of the present situation and the progress achieved so far.
It also highlights the role of women and youth as the engines for change. The book identifies women professionals in leadership roles and projects the participation of the Kingdom’s youth in nation building.
The chapters outline the struggle of decision makers to deal with new realities and emphasize the process of modernizing the vast and both physically and culturally diverse region of this country.
In my 10 years in Saudi Arabia, I have learned that you can count on the sun to rise and that summers will be hot and that Samar Fatany will be pushing for the societal reforms so many people believe the Kingdom must enact for the nation to progress in an ever-more competitive world.
It seems like back in 2003, many people read her pleas for social reforms with a large dose of skepticism doubting that the nation would progress. Over the years, reformers have had frequent opportunities to doubt things would change, but they have changed. In this book, you will note that the road to a more modern society may still be long, but the Saudi people have traveled quite a distance up that road in a relatively short time.
A decade ago, people were talking about necessary reforms in education, industry, women in the work place, judicial reforms, more tolerance for varying points of view and economic diversification to name a few. But now there are new universities across the country, new industries and economic cities, women working in shops and offices, moves to modernize the judicial system and certainly there is more tolerance for varying points of view.
A lot of this progress can be credited to the nation’s leader, King Abdullah, who seems to be determined to shepherd his flock to greener pastures and seems to have a very good idea about how to accomplish it.
I think some of that progress can be credited to the many men and women who have stood up and presented a vision of the future that certain elements of society hadn’t considered and other elements of society may not have wanted to consider. The creation by the King of a national dialogue required people of varying opinions to stand up and voice their views. While it may have been easy for those representing the old establishment viewpoints, it took courage and probably some degree at risk for those who saw the ways of the modern world beyond the Kingdom’s borders and realized that Saudi Arabia in some way, shape or form was a part of that world – like it or not.
Samar Fatany is one of those people who has resolutely shared her thoughts about progress, not as one with a cynical skepticism about the future but rather one who takes pride in being a Saudi and exudes the confidence that most Saudis want the best lives possible for their children, and that they realize that won’t happen living in a past that no longer exists.
In this book you’ll get a little history to explain why things were like they were and why they are like they are. You’ll also get an update on what’s going on and where it’s likely to go. One thing that is less certain may be how fast it’s going to get there.
I imagine it would be one of Samar Fatany’s fondest wishes to write that book to let you know when you’re arrived. It may be sooner than you think.
— Stephen L. Brundage
Excerpt from “Modernizing Saudi Arabia” – Chapter 2 – The Reform Movement (p.14) King Abdullah Initiates Reform
The reform movement is an ambitious initiative that involves vision, wisdom, strength, and perseverance to pave the way towards a prosperous 21st century state.
Modernizing Saudi Arabia is not an easy task. There are major challenges to overcome and enormous work to be done. The King has become a symbol of strength and reassurance to his citizens since his ascension to the throne. His support and encouragement, particularly to women and the young, has endeared him as a father figure and as a king to be respected and revered.
The most significant reforms addressed six major challenges that stood in the way of modernizing Saudi Arabia, specifically: combating terrorism, confronting extremism and the hard-line position against women, reforming the judiciary, implementing social and economic reforms and upgrading the educational system.
Upon his ascension to the throne King Abdullah initiated political reforms to confront the danger of terrorism and the deviant ideology that was threatening the security and stability of Saudi Arabia. He initiated an aggressive national rehabilitation program to combat terrorism, and encouraged a major campaign to propagate moderation and fight extremism. He supported the global war on terror and was able to save the country from a plot to brand it as a terrorist state to be targeted and attacked. He succeeded in defusing an international media campaign that seemed to implicate Saudi Arabia in terrorism and distort the image of its people the world over. King Abdullah wisely led a counter offensive by reaching out to all leaders around the world calling for peace and global prosperity. Many international journalists were invited to access firsthand information about the culture and peaceful nature of the Saudi people. The monarch welcomed foreign investments to contribute to the country’s development plans, and he initiated the intercultural dialogue to bridge the divide between Islam and the West.
In August 2010, King Abdullah decreed that only officially approved religious scholars would be allowed to issue “fatwas,” putting a stop to many spurious “fatwas” that did not represent the true spirit of Islam. King Abdullah boldly defied the extremists’ hard-line position that marginalized women, and he received accomplished women in his court, encouraging them to excel and contribute.
The government has also taken major steps to enforce regulations that support the role of women in society. In 2006, identification cards for women became mandatory, despite the uproar by the “Ulema” (religious scholars) who were against the inclusion of a woman’s photo on the card and remain dissatisfied with the directive to this day. Accordingly the ID card was required for all government and business transactions.
In 2008, after continued demands and pressure from the professional and business community, a ban on single woman renting hotel rooms was lifted and women could travel freely within the Kingdom. In 2011 the ban on women working in lingerie stores was finally lifted creating jobs for women across the Kingdom.
In 2011, the King openly defied the hardliners in his speech to the Shoura Council criticizing their hard-line positions and granting women political rights. His strong statement reassured the people that progress will continue, and Saudi Arabia will continue to modernize and reform.
He announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015, and they will become members of the next session of the Shoura Council in 2012. In his inaugural speech to the Shoura Council after he took the throne he strongly rejected any marginalization of women and welcome their participation in the decision-making process.
Human Rights Policies Delayed (p.37)
Evidently one of the many reasons why reformers have had little success in influencing change is the half-hearted approach of policymakers to embrace modernity with progressive strategies and better initiatives to effect change and development. They remain reluctant to confront powerful extremist elements in society.
Moreover, the conventional policy of authoritarian constraint did not permit the implementation of flexible programs to ensure basic rights for all citizens. Rather it allowed the influence of negative and un-progressive attitudes to exist depriving many of the freedom to progress and excel.
The social attitude of many segments in society, who are convinced that there is no urgency for domestic reform, is the main obstacle to progress. There are many who are persuaded that we need to develop slowly to allow society more time to accept change and adopt more progressive attitudes. What they fail to realize is that the delay will add more hurdles, and the challenges will continue to grow more complex. We live in an era of increasing economic pressure. The pace of global progress is accelerating, and the acknowledgement of global competitiveness is not so much a concern as an imperative for survival.
The slow implementation of human-rights policies and the weak attempts to enforce judicial and organizational reforms make it difficult to build the effective citizenship that is essential for a modern day society.
The inadequate provisions for basic human needs to ensure a better life, such as public transportation, job opportunities, health services, school facilities, public parks and proper housing to accommodate a burgeoning population, pose a major threat to the social stability and progress of the country. Corruption, bureaucracy and incompetent employees also stand in the way of implementing vital reforms. Valuable time is wasted, and government money is not utilized efficiently. Poor governance needs to be addressed, and the traditional management system needs to be modernized. The old school of a centralized system must be upgraded with management that delegates work to qualified personnel who can get the work done without delay. The lack of incentives and low wages are behind the poor productivity in many government departments. There is a need to raise awareness about work ethics and global standards of quality and productivity in order to influence change and provide better services to all of the nation’s people. The government should work harder on training young Saudis and upgrading their skills. Policy makers need to understand that the proportion of Saudis employed is not necessarily as important as the efficiency and effectiveness of those employed.
The way to catch up with global progress is to activate a vibrant civil society that can complement government policies, push the implementation of laws and promote the skills of citizenship essential for a more tolerant and progressive environment. Civil society development, however, is being constrained by legal structures that preclude the formation of civil institutions and non-governmental organizations. Currently the law requires all welfare societies to register under a central authority, and highly restrictive procedures are imposed to ban the activities of civic groups eager to address social issues such as labor rights or gender equality.
About Samar Fatany
SAMAR H. FATANY Former Head of the English Service and Chief Broadcaster at Jeddah Radio Station, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Information, Saudi Arabia. She has introduced many cultural, religious and current events programs over a period of 30 years. Samar Fatany has conducted many interviews with prominent local and international political personalities. She has participated in the media coverage of many regional and global economic conferences. She has made significant contributions in social awareness campaigns and participated in global interfaith dialogue events. In her previous books, Saudi Perceptions and Western Misconceptions, Saudi Women Towards a New Era, and Saudi Reforms and Challenges, Fatany has addressed the threat of extremism, and highlighted the new era of empowered women in her society. She has also covered the many challenges facing Saudi Arabia and projected the ongoing reform movement in the desert Kingdom. Fatany is an active member of several local organizations, including the Committee for International Trade, CIT, Riyadh, and the Committee for International Relations, IRC, and the Committee for Youth Forums of the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs promoting youth diplomacy and supporting youth initiatives in Saudi Arabia today. She is currently a writer and columnist for the Saudi Gazette.
About “Modernizing Saudi Arabia” This book portrays ambitious government initiatives to implement reforms and describes progressive attempts to help Saudi Arabia meet the challenges of the 21st century. It gives an overall picture of the present situation and the progress achieved so far. It also highlights the role of women and youth as the engines for change. The book identifies women professionals in leadership roles and projects the participation of the Kingdom’s youth in nation building. The chapters outline the struggle of decision makers to deal with new realities and emphasize the process of modernizing the vast and both physically and culturally diverse region of this country. Source: Introduction, “Modernizing Saudi Arabia” For more information and to buy the book, visit Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1482509989/saudiusrelati-20
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