It is time to look back and ahead.

Category: World Affairs Topics: Saudi Arabia

September 23, 2008, as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia moves past another milestone on the journey that began sixty-six years ago, it [was] right that we pause[d] to look back to the past and forward to the road that lies ahead. We look back not to indulge in self-glorification or to claim credit for the achievements of those who are no longer with us but to draw inspiration from the deeds and dedication of those whose vision and hard labor transformed a desert land into a modern state; to draw lessons from the experience of those who succeeded in welding together different groups of fiercely independent tribal units into a single nation; and to commit ourselves to keeping alive in our and our children's hearts the flame of national consciousness that transcends all narrow loyalties.

These are legacies bequeathed to us by an earlier and stronger generation. For that generation, their homeland did not include - as it does today - cosmopolitan cities, the latest technology, flyovers, airports, communication towers, universities, ultramodern hospitals and the thousand other amenities we take for granted in our lives because most of us, the younger among us in particular, have known no other Saudi Arabia.

We are apt to think, and many of us do think, that all these facilities have always been there or that they just "happened". They did not. They are there because sweat and blood were poured into the making of them. It was unremitting and back-breaking labor that put every brick of the structure in place and shouldered every boulder away. It is only when we learn how hard was the labor of building the state and consider how primitive was the material they built it with that we will realize how precious the legacy is and how demanding is the job of preserving it.

That is why we must look back on the path traveled by the founders of our nation. The primary credit for where we are today springs from the vision of one man who could see far ahead of his times: Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud. Born to lead, he was of that rare breed of men who could move with, and ahead of, the times without losing touch with his roots. Uniting the Arabian Peninsula under one central authority was in itself an achievement that flew in the face of a thousand years of history. Never after the early Caliphates had the desert land submitted itself to a central authority. Stupendous though his achievement was, of all the challenges that Abdul Aziz had to confront and overcome, that perhaps was the easiest. A great general with a superior army might have done the same. But what no great general or army could have done was to build a nation. That is not done by swords or artillery. A nation is more than a geographical entity. It is a state of mind, an awareness of oneness that binds its east to its west and its north to its south. It happens when those in command are able to convince the constituent units - all with their own perceptions, priorities and prejudices - that they are all parts of an integral whole committed to promoting the interests of all and determined to harm those of none.

Abdul Aziz was able to achieve this for one simple reason: that was what he wanted the nation to be - an entity to serve his people, not a vehicle to proclaim his personal grandeur.

Abdul Aziz was twice blessed: He was destined to be the man to unite the peninsula and to restore the rule of law under the Shariah. He was blessed again in that he was fortunate to have successors as committed as he was to the mission he had taken upon himself in the closing years of the 19th century. The story began when, in the Muslim month of Shawwal in the Hijrah year 1319, Abdul Aziz recaptured Riyadh which the House of Saud had earlier lost. And it is the centenary of that event which we are marking this year in the Hijrah year 1419.

Today, a century after that brave deed and sixty-six years after Saudi Arabia first appeared on the map of nations as a sovereign state, history bears witness that those who took over the helm from him have held true to the course he charted. Saudi Arabia's journey to modernity has been a quantum leap over centuries. The years of the state's existence, reckoned in terms of numbers, represent only a short span in a nation's life but reckoned in terms of the changes those years produced in our lives, each one of them is equal to an epoch. Decades of development were telescoped into months. It was a pace to modernity experienced by only a few peoples in the world.

And it was not all because of oil revenues. True, without the material and human resources the revenues made available, the scale and pace of the development would have been much different. Revenues alone, however, could never have done it. The proof is the fate of many countries with abundant natural resources. Used unwisely, they have not added to nor improved the quality of their citizens' lives. What made the difference is commitment. From King Abdul Aziz to King Fahd, the Kingdom had the good fortune of being guided by men of total commitment.

In our own times, determined that the country must be fully equipped to enter the coming millennium, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd has introduced a series of measures aimed at revitalizing and streamlining the political and administrative system. Education, industry, health -- all areas of national life have continued to expand under his watchful eye. His dedication to the nation is surpassed only by his commitment to the cause of Islam. Under his direct supervision, the two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah have seen the biggest expansion in history. He has initiated a series of projects to increase the facilities for the more than two million pilgrims from around the world who perform Haj every year.

Wherever there is human misery, be it in Bosnia, Somalia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya or Tanzania, be it caused by wars, natural disasters, or terrorism, the Kingdom has extended the hand of generosity. Wherever national sovereignty was violated by megalomaniacs, be it in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Palestine or Lebanon, the Kingdom has stood by the victims and supported the struggle for justice.

Wherever terror was used as a weapon to score political points, be it by individuals, groups or states, the Kingdom has condemned it. And whenever the name of Islam and Muslim causes was used to justify the murder of innocent people, the Kingdom has denounced it as a crime both against the victims and against Islam. It has missed no opportunity to appeal to all people not to tarnish the image of Islam and to appeal to the world to understand that Islam does not condone -- let alone sanction -- atrocities against anyone, regardless of color, religion or nationality.

It is because of this principled policy that the Kingdom's voice is listened to with respect in international councils. Its voice is always that of reason, logic and persuasion, of justice and good will. It is the voice of statesmanship and maturity, not of demagoguery and hysteria. It argues its case strongly and states its position clearly. When Crown Prince Abdullah made it clear in the European capitals he visited on his current foreign tour that there would be no compromise on the just rights of the Palestinians or on Muslim interests, he was reiterating a long-declared commitment of the Kingdom.

This is the nation we have today as we pass another milestone on our journey. What about the road ahead? Do we and our children who are the generation to walk that road have the physical and mental strength to withstand the strain of the rough terrain ahead? The answer to that question will determine whether we will end up as a people whose glory was all in the past with nothing to claim in the future.

Have many of us -- provided as we are with all comforts and facilities by our fathers -- come to believe that the world owes us an easy life? That if we stand aside, with a cup of coffee in our hands, others will toil for us? Do we believe that simply because we are Saudis we are entitled to top-management positions, no matter what our qualifications are or whether we possess the willingness to work until the job is done? 

If we have come to believe that, then the road ahead is not for us. We will belong to the has-beens of history who are destined to be left by the wayside, recounting the glories of the past and accusing those who march ahead of conspiracy. 
That should not be our way. Our children will be called upon to face the challenges of a world changing so fast that the greatest living scientist refuses to predict what our lives will be like in ten years' time. That world will not be inherited by the lazy. It will be possessed by those who are willing and equipped to walk ahead of the caravan, by those who think and toil for themselves.

Our duty today is to commit ourselves to qualify our younger generation to be among those who march, to prepare them to be part of this age of science and technology, to teach them to shoulder responsibility and walk their share of the miles ahead. That is the way to the horizon. And the time to take the first step is now, today, as we celebrate the birthday of our nation.


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