A DECADE ago, the Arab world woke up to a phenomenon of chaos, violence, executions, killings and civil war, through which some regimes were overthrown. These incidents shook the region hard. Even though what happened at that time wasn’t unique to the world, the fact stands that such events did not come out of the blue, especially for those regimes that thought their enemies did not have the ability to agitate the streets.
Failure to heed people’s voices brought down Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime within 23 days of uprising. The same applied to the old Egyptian regime after 18 days of demonstrations. On the other hand, the story was more bloody in Libya and Yemen than what the decision makers had thought and anticipated.
It was as if the leaders of those countries were the ones described by the classical Arab poet Tarfa bin Al-Abd when he said, “… Like a camel in the desert that dies of thirst while carrying water on its back”.
In this regard, I recall the story of a stingy man who also happened to be the wealthiest in his town. He was so stingy that his family ate meat only on Fridays, and the meat was extracted from the head of a sheep because of which his town gave him the nickname “sheephead”. His family was eagerly waiting for his death so that they could taste the luxury of wealth.
One day, the “sheephead” went on a business trip to a neighbouring town. Upon entering the town, he was met by an honorable well-groomed man. The latter took him to his house and hosted him as a guest, as it was the old Arab custom to host strangers who came from out of their town.
After three days, the sheephead asked his host about his line of work, given that he hasn’t seen him going out to work despite his affluent living standard. His host told him that he usually marry the widows of wealthy men and subsequently end up enjoying with them the wealth left behind by their deceased husbands.
The host then told the sheephead about a wealthy man in the nearby town who is wealthy but stingy, revealing his plan to wait for his demise in order to marry his widowed wife and enjoy the wealth she will inherit from her late stingy husband.
Upon returning to his hometown, the sheephead went straight to the market and bought so many goods that he had to hire four porters to carry them to his house. His family were shocked, instead of being surprised, by such a transformation of the stingy sheephead. When they asked him about it, he said, “We need to finish this wealth before it finishes us, and before we pass away”.
Perhaps if the leaders of those countries that were shaken by the Arab Spring had realized the lesson contained in this story, many things in their countries would have been different. They would have been able to spare their people all this devastation, as they would have done what rational leaders had done in other countries in terms of closely following up the challenges faced by their people, and taking measures to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
Very few countries managed to thwart schemes that were architected by the sabotage forces. Among those countries, at that time, was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
With the onset of the Arab Spring, prowlers in the Gulf countries particularly in Saudi Arabia turned their attention to the people of Saudi Arabia. The mouthpiece of conspiracy in the region and Europe began inciting the Saudis against their leadership. They called for a mass demonstration on Friday, March 2011, but it was no surprise that no one came out.
At that time, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz had returned from a medical trip in the United States. He had immediately issued about 30 royal decrees that had been prepared before his medical trip. Those decrees pumped about two trillion riyals into comprehensive reform in various sectors such as education, health, housing, etc., in addition to providing financial aid to low-income earners, writing off loans, and freeing those who were in prison because of their inability to pay back loans.
On that day, he gave his historic speech to his people, in which he said, “How proud I am of you, for being the glue that holds the national cohesion by the grace of Almighty Allah, and being the safety valve of peace, security and stability of the Kingdom, which you demonstrated by thwarting the ill schemes of prowlers who targeted the loyalty and solidarity of the nation”.
After the death of King Abdullah, the second major turning point was brought about by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who launched the “Saudi Arabia 2030” program, the progress of which we are currently witnessing. He also issued royal decrees that cost about 100 billion riyals for improving services.
The Saudi government had not given itself an excuse to spend such wealth on the so-called future generations or on sovereign funds; instead, it chose to spend the wealth on the people of Saudi Arabia.
This is the difference between those leaders who surrendered to stingy demeanor and tendencies at the expense of their people and allowed the hand of corruption to thrive, and those leaders who heard the whisper of their people before it became a scream that destabilized the state.
Indeed, there are lessons that leaders can learn from history, as is the case with the Umayyad Empire, which was brought down by the stinginess of the Caliph known as Marwan Al-Himmar, as well as the Abbasid Empire, which was overthrown by the Khorasan Revolution after its caliph continued to withhold wealth from the people, increased taxes, and closed its doors in the face of the people who represent the engine of the state.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times