Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is Saudi Arabia moving closer to a modern society ?

THERE’s been a lot of talk this past year or so that changes in the Saudi government were too slow in coming. That somehow the momentum to push forward the bold decisions to bring Saudi Arabia closer to a modern society had somehow been lost or pushed aside.

Saudis have become somewhat cynical over cabinet changes over the years as ministers have been shuffled from one job to another, but real change, real progress, always was an elusive element on how we govern our country.That changed dramatically, perhaps for the first time in Saudi Arabia’s history, as King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz named Norah Al-Fayez as the first deputy minister for Girls’ Education and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Humayen Al-Humayen as the new head of the General Presidecy of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a).

Also receiving positions were Saleh Bin Humaid as chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council; Mohammed Al-Jasser as governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency; Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah as minister of Education; Abdullah Al-Rabea as minister of Health; Abdul-Aziz Al-Khoja as minister of Culture and Information; and Abdullah Al-Sheikh as head of the Shoura Council.King Abdullah also has re-structured the Senior Ulema Council.

A quick glance at these names demonstrates capable leaders of different cultural and tribal backgrounds, not to mention all coming from different schools of Islam.Abdullah Al-Rabea, the new minister of Health, is well known worldwide for his work in separating conjoined twins. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago. He is popular for his work in the health sector of the National Guard. I found him to be a humble, religious man who never thought of himself as too important to listen to patient’s complaints. His door was open to everyone at any time.

He’s a visionary who always believed and hoped that all of the health sectors throughout the Kingdom work under a single umbrella instead of the various ministries to allow services to become more effective.Norah Al-Fayez’s appointment promises a long-held belief that education for women can be separate but equal to men.Many in Saudi Arabia have long been troubled over the many unfortunate incidents involving the Hai’a (Virtue Commission) over the years.

Fatal car chases, inexplicable rough-handling of non-Muslim expats in public places and what seemed to be the commission’s intent to banish anything remotely Western from Saudi society has tarnished its image. But Humayen is believed to be fair-minded, practical and scholarly, and who will promote the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a more enlightened manner.

In his first public appearance following his appointment, Humayen has already reflected a change. He said a person is innocent until proved guilty.Equally, if not more important, is the attention paid to the Saudi judicial system. King Abdullah has recognized these incidents as counter-productive and has taken steps to correct them. He indicated in 2005 that Saudi Arabia was to embark on an era of reform.

But we set the standard by example for the Ummah. And if is not the leaders of Saudi Arabia, then who will take the responsibility to lead Islam into the 21st century?An Egyptian friend of mine who lives in Saudi Arabia could barely find the words to express her joy over what she saw as the good deeds, wisdom, respect and the deep religious nature of King Abdullah and the courage he demonstrated in making changes that many of us thought may never happen. Although I see these changes as the first of many steps to a more compassionate and embracing Islam, I couldn’t agree more with my friend.


Bill said...

I couldn't agree more with you and your friend either. It's great news.

Sadly the real significance of these moves were largely lost on the western media, again though...

Foxxi said...


Well, not really, I found some articles in the german press about Norah Al-Fayez. But basically you're right, they're only reporting about her.

I guess the problem is, that nobody in the west is familiar with the other names, rather than their approach to reforms, while a woman in the Saudis government is recognized as a revolution.

Bill said...

Foxxi, yes, that's certainly a factor, but it's the job of the media to find out who the names are and explain it.

Having said that, the LA Times is sometimes quite informed about Saudi affairs - not quite sure why that is. A pity they're going broke...