… and the sand should not shift underneath our foot.
I woke up to the news on BBC that Black panther can be watched across select theatres in Saudi Arabia. That’s not an isolated reform; it is part of plethora of reforms, the scale of which is unprecedented as compared to the regions similar changes during the Shah of Iran.
This scale and its pace of reforms concern me. Not that those are not required. However, the concern is on an emerging pattern just like Iran, when the Shah was overthrown by the radicals in 1979. That’s where my fear and apprehension lies.
The conservatives or hardliners are so deeply anchored in old obsolete idea of Wahhabism that these changes are too radical for them to absorb. Saudi Arabia is radically drifting away from the alliance between clerics, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, and his rigid conservative doctrines.
The gender equality unleashed by Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Prince MBS), an example of which is the city of Madinah, which will be run by women. Women have got the right to drive, vote, institutional protection by the state and corruption amongst the ruling royal elite has been stemmed, removing guardianship laws that empowers women and makes them less dependent on the men, establishing an Islamic center that validates the sayings of the prophet Muhammed, Israel is no longer considered a pariah state, Saudi is building its own arms and relying less on conventional friend US. Reducing budget deficit, isolating Qatar and stemming support for radicals, openly defying Iran, and harboring an ambition to make a nuclear arsenal to counter Shia Iran, are just few revolutionary theme. The list goes long and I am concerned, the reverberations of these run even deeper.
All these reforms were long awaited for a Kingdom to rise to the aspirations of the next generation and waning oil dependency by the world and consequent reduction of oil revenues. As Kamel Daoud said in New York Times, ‘The country produces, sponsors, shelters and feeds the Islamism that threatens its foundations and its future’.
I wonder if the masses are prepared to take this even if we presume the country is getting ready for Vision 2030. I always think, and it applies to Saudi too, that we need to work with people and then plan to deploy and implement a change. A shift in ideology is always radical change to adopt. If that chasm widen, it generates revolt. That’s the concern with Saudi. We don’t want such nice and welcome changes to turn sour. We don’t want Saudi Arabia to be another Iran. The region has enough history towards backward conservatism.
We forget, social engineering comes before economic and technology transformation. We mostly see the reverse. Our collective conscious and framework of living in consonance and within the realms of nature and our own evolution, creates a milieu composed of culture and artifacts that are deeply embedded within our ethos. Technology, as an isolated phenomenon, is too narrow in its ambit to influence these deep seated influences. However, when a swath of such technology (and related) changes engulf humanity, we are challenged and, collectively as a civilization, we fall back or default to old value system. That’s why, social engineering becomes paramount with such speed of change coming-not alone from technology but from all sides.
If Saudi Arabia Reforms, What Happens to Islamists Elsewhere? (New York Times, Kamel Daoud, Nov 16, 2017)