Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Footprints of a Young Man From the Middle East

A famous person once invited me for a cup of coffee. It was an enticing prospect, as this person had had the privilege of mingling with several prominent global figures, and he had a knack for reading people, situations, and stages. He posited that a successful ruler is one who leaves his footprints on his country. The opportunity to do so is afforded to leaders who emerge at critical junctures and are bold enough to make decisions that change the fate of their countries and nations. The impact they leave does not necessarily have to be positive; however, history has no mercy on those who try to carve a place in it for themselves through force and by wreaking havoc that leads to collapse.

History prosecutes the leaders who give rise to calamities and presents those who combat backwardness, poverty, and isolation in a positive light. He gave the example of Lee Kuan Yew, who significantly impacted the lives of Singaporeans, a nation with scarce natural resources. Then, he explained that some rulers’ legacies are contentious, leaving ardent supporters and unwavering detractors behind them. For instance, Imam Khomeini undeniably left his footprint on the Iranian people and on several others in the region. He said that Gamal Abdel Nasser also left his footprint on the fate of the Egyptian people, as well as taking several other countries in the region by storm with his ideas and stances.

Noting that these imprints are subsequently rigorously examined. Did the leader’s policies contribute to improving the people’s lives and preparing them for future challenges? Did the leader go from appealing to his people through flashy slogans and enthralling speeches to drawing support through the realization of projects that provided them with bread, job opportunities, and dignity? We should also note that the imprints of leaders whose legacies run counter to the logic of progress swiftly crash into the currents of history and the people’s needs and aspirations for sustenance, job opportunities, dignity, progress, stability, and prosperity.

The notion of leaving a footprint intrigued me. As a journalist, I found that Vladimir Putin had left a mark on the fate of Russia and the world when he saved the Russian Federation from the winds of disintegration, which could have left it drowning in racial, ethnic, and religious conflicts, with all the lethal radiation they would have entailed. He also left his mark by picking up the pieces of a defeated Russia and giving it back a respectable seat at the table of the great powers.
Unfortunately, today he is leaving his footprint through the war in Ukraine, which could undo the positive progress that he had previously made in Russia after it had been wounded and weakened in the post-Soviet era. I also believe that Xi Jinping left his mark on the fate of China and the world. He is a strong leader of a country that has taken 700 million Chinese people out of the prison of extreme poverty. Indeed, he is the leader of a country whose influence extends beyond the Belt and Road initiative, which is monumental.

Changing the destiny of a country is a formidable task. Sometimes, the wait is long. Change requires persuasion and a provocative idea. It also needs a capable individual with a vision and a talent for impelling people to share his dream. The people, particularly the passionate and determined youths, engaging with the dream is what creates change. Effective management of this grand workshop amplifies the dream and provides the data to validate it.

The turning point happens when a man who seems destined for a mission his country had long awaited emerges. A man who sparks his people’s imagination and is confident in his country's ability to be stronger, better, and more resilient in its path to the future. The turning point is achieved if the man's dream and data knock on doors and persuade the populace to rally behind it, making the dream of transformation, change, and progress an irrevocable decision. Thus, the Renaissance man precipitates a turning point in the life of his country and maybe even beyond.

The past decades in the Middle East have been painful and horrific. Cities became crowded with bewildered unemployed youth. Its already declining educational attainment declined further. Health services were scarce and depressing. The region was drowning in consecutive wars, fought both within and between countries. A river of widows and orphans gushed from the region, and a sea of refugees arose. Some of its youths fell prey to dark ideas claiming that the keys lie in the caves of history. Revolutions went astray and the wealth of the region was eviscerated.

Many countries were administered poisonous cures: failed and corrupt governments that aggravated their illnesses. Many were enticed to collide with the world after having devastated their countries. Despair exacerbated, and it became commonplace to believe that the people of the Middle East were doomed to never join the march of progress and remain outside the era and its scientific and technological revolutions - that they could neither replicate the experiences of others nor forge their own destiny.

Saudi Arabia had managed to safeguard its stability for decades as the turbulent winds stormed through the region: the Iranian agenda, waves of domestic extremism, and the mine that could have blown up Saudi-American relations laid by Osama bin Laden. Extremist ideologies managed to paralyze a not insignificant segment of both the population, stifling the capacities of the county’s young men and women, and holding their dreams and ideas hostage, thereby threatening to close the door to any hope.

That gave rise to numerous questions regarding Saudi Arabia’s relationship with itself, the world, and the contemporary era. Questions regarding its standing in the region and the world also arose, as did queries about its future and the future of its youths. Saudi Arabia was in need of a decision, decisive action, and a visionary that launched the battle for a promising future.

This was the climate in which, a few years ago, King Salman put his trust in his son Mohammed, seemingly sensing that he would alter the course of their nation. The young man was armed with dreams and data. Initially, many saw Vision 2030 as a far-fetched dream in a region unaccustomed to bold leaps towards the future. Nonetheless, the Saudi Crown Prince raised the torch of renaissance and transformation. He was in a race against time as he retrieved what had been lost over the decades past. A distinct approach to engaging both the domestic and international fronts gave birth to a new Saudi Arabia, and to a project that enjoyed the overwhelming support of its citizens and youths.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman's exceptional interview with Fox News reminded me that the current Saudi view of the region and the global stage is the fruit of years of work. During this time, relentless effort was put into projects, conferences, and visits abroad. As journalists, we had the opportunity to follow the developments closely. We saw a new Saudi Arabia emerge, domestically, regionally, and globally. It has a strong economy that has moved beyond solely relying on oil revenues, and it has adopted a policy approach of ending disputes in pursuit of stability and prosperity.

Moreover, it now has strong relations with key global capitals, including Washington, Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi, among others. With an ascending role in the G20, responsible stances that have augmented its influence, and an open approach towards international crises, energy pricing, and environmental issues, the footprint Saudi Arabia is making on the globe is clear. The country has decided to play a proactive role on the global stage, form strategic partnerships, and create an economic corridor linking India, the Middle East, and Europe. There are obvious signs that Saudi-US relations are deepening, and the clouds of the past are fading. The features of a new chapter in the history of the Middle East are becoming apparent, and it will begin if Israel acknowledges that justice for the Palestinian people is crucial for regional stability.

Within the span of a few years, Saudi Arabia has come to play a significant role in resolving global issues with implications for global economic and political stability. Mohammed bin Salman has undeniably marked domestic affairs with his vision. Now, the world is talking about the footprint that a new player is leaving. The footprints of a young man from the Middle East.