Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major national transition toward a more modernized society where transparency and civic engagement are key policies to achieving the goals of Vision 2030. The first theme of the agenda, a vibrant society with fulfilling lives, encourages the promotion of sports and physical activities. The direction of governance in the Kingdom places strong reliance over civil engagement and participation to reach the goals of the vision.
The domestic and foreign policies of Saudi Arabia have caught the attention of international media. The Chatham House, a British foreign policy think tank, has released a well-researched report by Caroline Montagu titled “Civil Society in Saudi Arabia: The Power and Challenges of Association.” While the 50-page report is informative, it didn’t cover the history of civil society during the early days of the Kingdom.
Furthermore, since the announcement of Vision 2030, the identity of the Kingdom in the future has become a topic of discussion. However, throughout history, there have been cases where traditional countries succeeded in implementing positive changes while preserving their culture, values and identity.
Despite cultural and timeline differences, Saudi Arabia and Japan are no strangers to each other. The two countries were perceived by the world as being isolated, mysterious and unexplored. Before the 19th century, Japan was very secluded and not as advanced as it is today. The unexpected and surprising modernization that brought the country to recovery led historians to call it the sleeping beauty that awoke. Japan has always been isolated from the world, and yet managed to scale greater heights without foreign interference.
What ushered the change is what is known as the Meiji Restoration, where the world Meiji means “enlightened rule” and one of the objectives of this restoration was to keep a healthy balance between identity, traditions and advancement.
Civil society is not new to Saudi. It has existed since the days of King Abdul Aziz, where an open Majlis was frequently hosted and citizens voiced their ideas and discussed their problems. While public diplomacy regarding foreign policies was a common strategy overseas, civil diplomacy, on the other hand, which has long been practiced by the rulers of the Kingdom since the early days of King Abdul Aziz, was being implemented within Saudi society and has greatly influenced governance.
King Abdul Aziz was always determined to remain accessible to his people and had issued a decree: “We inform all our subjects that we are always ready to receive complaints; if any person submits his complaint to us, he who has been done an injustice will undoubtedly be given his full rights, and he who causes this injustice will be punished as he may deserve.
“I grew up in the desert and, therefore, I do not know the art of oratory, but I know our glory and honor come with Islam. Advice must have a basis; a commitment to truth. Then it becomes fruitful and beautiful, and that is how advice is beneficial. Disregarding advice leads to ignorance and blind passion. We want all advice to combine Sunnah and what God has ordered us to do.”
Today, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s agenda is to continue with the work of his predecessors of acknowledging the important role of civil society in governance and encouraging participation. “ As Saudi Arabia is transitioning toward a vibrant nation where 60 percent of its population is youth, the modern-day demands are more complicated than those faced by older generations. The younger generations are growing up at a time when the global trends are rapidly changing.
The upcoming challenge is to create a national dialogue to inform individuals about the many ways to achieve an inclusive vibrant Saudi Arabia.
The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue has been carrying out excellent programs that are encouraging the youth to discuss and execute their ideas to contribute to a sustainable future in the Kingdom. The success of the programs carried by the center showcases the eagerness of the vibrant Saudi citizens to participate in Vision 2030. By providing more educational and accessible physical platforms, initiatives or hubs to engage citizens and corporates, achieving Vision 2030 goals will not be difficult.