Sunday , December 16 2018

Tribute to great Saudi reformer

THE Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is truly blessed to be led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, an exceptionally wise and generous monarch. His reign has been transformational. He has proved to be among the greatest leaders of our time and a staunch Arab patriot. He is a man of the people who cares deeply about their concerns, surmounting all obstacles to defend their interests as well as those of Saudi’s Gulf allies.

He is cut from the same mould as the “Fathers of the UAE” Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed AlMaktoum, both compassionate forward-thinkers unafraid to carve a path to a brighter future.

The Monarch’s generosity is legendary. The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre has spent almost $2 bn on health, agriculture, refugees, water, sanitation and hygiene in over 40 countries. Programmes include the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the distribution of shelter, food and wheelchairs to those in war zones and disaster areas.

Long before his ascension to the throne following the demise of King Abdullah, his love for his people was in evidence. During his long tenure of more than 5 decades as Governor of Riyadh, the province blossomed into a thriving modern, corruption-free metropolis. “Every village or town in the Riyadh region is dear to me, and holds a special place in my heart,” he said. “I witnessed every step taken by the city of Riyadh and for this reason it is difficult for me to think about being far away from Riyadh.”

As Governor he worked hard to attract foreign investment, improved infrastructure and became known as a peacemaker, solving disputes between tribes and ensuring all social sectors were treated justly with respect. In short, he loves his people and genuinely strives for their well-being. He has often gone among them to discover their needs and wants first-hand.

During King Salman’s rule, the Kingdom has witnessed vast improvements, economically and socially, implemented under the supervision of his son Crown Prince Mohammed who is opening up Saudi to the outside world. Among the many tourism projects in the pipeline are ambitious Red Sea island resorts inspired by the Maldives model. Saudi youth are enthused by mushrooming theatres, cinemas and entertainment venues.

For the first time, women can drive themselves and now have diverse career choices. More females participate in sports and they can now attend sporting events as spectators in specified venues unaccompanied by a male guardian. At the same time the powers of the once feared ‘muttawa’ religious police have been severely curtailed. During US President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh the King inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology ‘Etidal’ that promotes moderation and acceptance. Specialists trained to recognize radical speech patterns confront extremist propaganda on the internet and monitor reports in the media are employed.

Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the economy away from reliance on oil with commitments to education, innovation, the privatization of state-owned assets and an end to corruption, is nothing less than genius. Its prime goals are to grow the economy, provide business opportunities and jobs while providing transparent governance.

These are very important steps in the Arab World’s most conservative country, home to Islam’s holiest sites, where drastic changes cannot occur overnight without a push-back. The King is obliged to walk a tightrope between facilitating progress and the preservation of traditional mores.

The King is meticulous in his role as Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques without discrimination. Despite the fraught relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, over 85,000 Iranian pilgrims undertook the Hajj this year and lauded the welcome they received.

He is determined to create the best possible environment for pilgrims to worship and practice their religion. A high-speed railway now connects the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah geared towards transporting 60 million passengers annually. Infrastructure projects aimed at increasing capacity, among them the world’s biggest hotel, are underway at a cost of $80 bn.

There are many more rungs of the ladder to be climbed to fulfil his dream of creating his nation anew and to that end he should receive encouragement from the international community.

To be frank, I have been shocked and distressed at the unfounded accusations in the media launched at the Monarch and his son over the Khashoggi affair. To imagine that either gave the order for such a heinous crime was for me unthinkable. I have been proven correct now that the results of the Saudi investigation have been published. Rogue elements tasked with persuading the Saudi national believed to have been “co-opted by organizations and countries hostile to the Kingdom” to return home overstepped their mandate. The United States, France and Pakistan have hailed the findings and arrests.

Five have been charged and if prosecutors get their way will receive the death penalty. Shame on Turkey for its politicization of this criminal incident! The government of a country which imprisons the most journalists worldwide has purposefully dripped information hoping to gain leverage for itself and one of its regional benefactors.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has whipped up international hysteria in a cynical attempt to keep the story on the front pages of newspapers and other media for weeks. He has played an underhand game going as far as to disseminate recordings of the killing. Why is nobody asking how those recordings were obtained? Evidently the Turkish government is breaching diplomatic norms and infringing sovereignty by spying on embassies and consulates.

The Western media has had a field day with ‘news’ reports replete with unfounded allegations and speculation depicting Mr Khashoggi as a mere journalist overlooking his affiliations with suspect organizations and his conspiratorial links with his homeland’s known foes. Nevertheless a crime that never should have occurred was committed and has been acknowledged. The perpetrators are being held responsible. Justice will be served.

Demonization of Saudi Arabia and its leadership must stop forthwith. The Kingdom underpins the Arab World; its stability and strength is critical to our region, our religion as well as global security and prosperity. As long as there are leaders like King Salman with a tender heart and a strong, steady hand, no conniver or plotter can succeed in doing us harm.

God be with you, Your Majesty. Please continue making us united and proud.

By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor – UAE Businessman

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