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Who Opened the Window?

Who Opened the Window?

Monday, 30 September, 2019 - 06:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It isn’t everyday that a country is ruled by a strong man who has a dream for his nation. This ruler enjoys complete legitimacy and the ability to predict future changes. This ruler believes that becoming embroiled in the battle for modernity will act as a guarantee for the interests of the people and protect the country, its heritage and history.

The dream transforms into a national project when it attracts people, especially the young generations that want to come to terms with this age and its scientific and technological wealth in order to provide appropriate job opportunities and promising education. The ruler breaks the wall of fear because he has confidence in his people and dream.

This took place in Chin and Singapore and is taking place in Saudi Arabia.

China will celebrate its national day on Tuesday. President Xi Jinping will preside over a military parade at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. It is the same place where Mao Zedong stood 70 years ago to announce the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The world would not have batted an eyelid had the country been full of poor people or been begging for aid. But today we are talking about the world’s second largest economy and the belief in the imminent rise of the Chinese age.

We can understand the Chinese authorities’ need to remind the world of its military might. A new world is taking shape and China is currently engaged in a trade war with the United States, the world’s greatest power.

More important, however, than missiles and tanks is the message that the Chinese dream is ongoing and so is its massive global economic onslaught in the shape of its Belt and Road initiative.

Tomorrow’s celebration is also significant because China is currently ruled by the strongest ruler since Mao as Xi is now allowed by the constitution to remain in power indefinitely. The truth is Xi would not have reaped such power if it were not for Deng Xiaoping, who left his mark on China’s future when he kicked off a massive transformation that paved the way for prosperity, while maintaining stability.

Deng deviated from Mao’s path. He may have preserved the great leader’s mausoleum, but he took the decision to reconcile with the times. He made the choice to become part of the world and progress away from stiff ideology and policies. Deng did not burn the Red Book, but he steered the country towards a market economy, technological progress, competition and openness to others.

Deng’s journey was not at all easy. Major transformations strike major fears. He had to persuade the majority and confront the old guard, who were still clinging on to Mao from beyond the grave. He had to assure those who feared that opening the window would pave the way for collapse, not change. He had to change mentalities and methods. He had to respond to doubters with achievements and let the numbers confirm the fulfillment of dreams, especially since major transformations always bring about the danger of errors and setbacks.

Had Deng only ruled to maintain continuity and stability, China would not be where it is today and Xi would not be able to address the world tomorrow in his capacity as a major player. Major transformations demand exceptional figures. Deng is the man who opened the window.

Another similar pioneering experience was witnessed in Singapore. The small island could have been mired in poverty and ethnic tensions. But Lee Kuan Yew was no ordinary prime minister. He had a piercing vision and iron will when he assumed his post. When he came to power at the age of 35, he ruled over a poor country devoid of hope.

He realized that changing the fate of his country demands difficult, bold and sometimes painful decisions. Shaping the future cannot be achieved without introducing the dream of modernity into homes, schools and the people’s daily lives. The transformation needs a plan, stages, patience and amendments.

Lee Kuan Yew kicked off the project, waging a relentless war against corruption and bureaucracy. He opened the door to foreign investors and provided the necessary legal environment. He was extremely keen on preserving stability as without it, everything would fall apart. When he later recalled his journey, he said that countries are built on education. He explained that he came to power in a poor country and showed more attention to the economy than politics. He focused on education, built schools and universities, sent students abroad to learn and then used their experience to develop Singapore.

The project ended with a prosperous and stable Singapore. The island transformed into a global modern financial hub. Lee Kuan Yew was the man who opened the window.

After the experience in China and Singapore, we are now witnessing a unique one in an Arab and Islamic country. It is the major transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 is no longer the dream dreamed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman alone and with encouragement of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz. It is now a comprehensive Saudi dream. It has seeped into every home, school and university. Whoever visits the country would not be exaggerating in saying that he was visiting a new Saudi Arabia. It is a Saudi Arabia that adheres to its principles and beliefs, but also realizes the importance of joining the battle for modernity. It is a Saudi Arabia that is confident of its ability to open up to the world and partner with it in building the future.

Experience has shown that awakening hope in the regular citizen is a form of enrichment that is added to a country’s already existing wealth. They hope that the coming days will be better in providing job opportunities, education and living conditions and empowering women. This is no easy feat in a region where despair eats away at the people and incompetence paralyzes governments.

Within this context, we can understand the march towards modernization and reform, diversifying sources of income for the post-oil period, attracting investments, combating corruption and bureaucracy and investing in local wealth and tourism. This is a solid project that is forging forward undeterred by attempts to obstruct it, the last of which was the attack against the Aramco oil facilities. Perhaps maintaining the project according to plan is the best response to increasingly hostile anti-Saudi policies that stem from concerns that the country will become a major modern economic power to add to is significant Arab, Islamic and international standing.

The transformation and success in Saudi Arabia may become an example and inspire others. Mohammed bin Salman is the man who opened the window.

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