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A Natural Part of the World

A Natural Part of the World

Monday, 26 March, 2018 - 08:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It was indeed an exceptional occasion. It is true that the presence of Prince Mohammed bin Salman makes the talks focus on the future and its horizons, but it is also true that the near past was present in the talks as if it has become a bridge to ensure the transition to deep and open partnerships.

A journalist’s curiosity grows when he takes part in an event that attracts figures who have played a prominent role in major episodes that rocked his own region. This is what happened at the dinner in Washington to celebrate the Saudi-US partnership on the occasion of the Saudi Crown Prince’s visit.

Attendees included, in addition to prominent congressional figures, men who left their marks on America’s relations with the Middle East and its relations with Riyadh: Dick Cheney, James Baker, George W. Bush, the son of George HW Bush, William Cohen, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the daughter of the late General Norman Schwarzkopf accompanied by his grandson.

The journalist cannot but recall images and dates: I remembered the day when Asharq Al-Awsat sent me to Geneva to follow James Baker’s meeting with Tariq Aziz. The world held its breath for hours. The Iraqi army was occupying Kuwait. Baker was calm and clear. But Aziz could not receive the warning message delivered by the US Secretary.

Aziz knew that Saddam Hussein had become the prisoner of his own image and preferred disaster to withdrawal. This is how the Desert Storm broke out. The sin of the occupation of Kuwait will generate other tragic chapters, including the overthrow of the Iraqi regime by overwhelming American force after Osama bin Laden provided the wounded America with the opportunity to embark on a campaign of extensive discipline.

Speakers delivered their speeches successively with high proficiency. Some secrets attracted the audience, especially when talking about turning points in the development of major and difficult decisions. But let us leave history to itself and to its admirers. A sense of optimism characterized speeches about the future of Saudi-US relations. It was evident that Saudi Arabia’s new look has saved its relations from previous obstacles after overcoming difficult tests.

Osama bin Laden believed that cutting the thread that links America to Saudi Arabia would smooth the way for a coup against the latter, along with shaking the pillars of stability of Arab and Islamic countries. Undeniably, this attempt has caused many difficulties and harmed the image of Saudi Arabia, especially that some parties focused on portraying the Kingdom as the source of terrorism and extremism.

All this has become part of the past. Speakers spoke about the new Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, which witnessed over the past two years a workshop that raised hopes and turned the Saudi youth from colliding with the world, towards a project of reconciliation with the world and the building of mutually beneficial relations.

The past period, which saw extremists and obscurants control mosques, schools and minds, has ended. That period that would make the Arabs feel they are vulnerable and marginalized, and that the option is either retreat and isolation or forging ahead towards collision.

The story went farther: there are those who believed that Arabs and Muslims have become a burden to the world and a bomb waiting to explode in others; that they want nothing more than to stick to the past and fortify its caves, and that they repine about a world where others have manufactured its aircraft, refrigerators, cars, medicines and films. Proponents of hatred came to rub salt into the wound of anxious souls. Everyone who does not resemble us is our enemy. The other is a threat to our beliefs and existence. We kill him or he will kill us. The language of hatred prevailed and the minds of children and the emotions of young people were manipulated.

All this has become part of the past. In his foreign visits, Mohammed bin Salman has a clear and conclusive message. Saudi Arabia has taken an irrevocable decision by asserting that it is a natural part of this world. It took a firm decision to hop on the train traveling to the future, turning the page of the dominance of ideas of attachment to the past.

To be a natural part of the world means to accept the right to be different. To recognize that you don’t have the right to impose your color on others as long as you refuse to give them the right to impose their color on you.

It means mutual recognition and meeting on the bridge of coexistence. The idea of considering others as a permanent and existential threat has fallen. There is no choice but coexistence, on the basis of reciprocal respect, mutual interests and partnership in jointly building a world that has room for all. Hate is a force of destruction that afflicts its conveyor before affecting the supposed target.

Today, Saudi Arabia heads confidently towards the world. It has overcome the stage of fighting terrorism to reach the episode of eradicating extremism, which leaked to books and institutes, and poisoned the local daily life and the language of communication with the outside. Trying to immunize people against the extremism epidemic is no longer enough.

The solution is a project of prosperity and stability, making Saudi youth feel that windows are open and opportunities are available.

A learning opportunity that establishes the values of progress, competitiveness and innovation. Saudi youth feel that their country is able to be prosperous and strong and be a partner in shaping the future of the region and the world, as a driver of prosperity and stability.

Saudi Arabia now goes to the world carrying “Vision 2030”: a profound and broad transformation project in society. A comprehensive rehabilitation process for a strong presence in the economy and politics.

That’s why Saudi Arabia is no longer thinking of airplanes without thinking about universities. It is seeking economic and defense partnerships. It wants to win investor confidence and provide technological and educational support to the reform program. It is the language of today's world. The language of mutual interests and the common journey on the train heading towards the future.

The fear of boarding the train with others and partnering with them has ended. Saudi Arabia wants to open doors for investment in all areas from military industries to tourism and leisure. Its wealth is not limited to oil. Another wealth is emerging. It is the youth, who are now attracted to the dream of becoming a natural part of the world and the struggle for progress and improvement of people’s living conditions. The success of the Saudi experiment will provide a model that encourages all Arabs and Muslims to engage in the world as a natural partner in rights and duties.

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