COVID-19 is not the first crisis that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has experienced, but it is the first time a crisis is handled with such high level of transparency. No questions are being raised concerning the approach for the solution and no question marks are being drawn.
The reign of King Salman bin Abdulaziz is something else. Since his ascension to power, he adopted a virtuous approach governing his relations with the people.
This culminated in his speech in 2017 when he said, “May Allah have mercy on the man who shows me my faults. If you or my fellow citizens see anything that has an interest in your religion above all and your country – the country of the Two Holy Mosques of which we are all servants – you are welcome to state it out. I repeat that our doors are open, our phones are open, and our ears are listening to every citizen.”
On this basis, policies were created in various aspects. Therefore, when the Minister of Finance Muhammad Al-Jada’an speaks with transparency and clarity about the “painful measures” that may be taken by the government, he is working according to this approach. Therefore, there is no clamor about the steps that must be followed to avoid the negative effects of the pandemic which has rocked the entire world.
There are examples of world leaders who have been outright open to their people, and were able to approach them in this manner and achieve their aspirations as well as advance their countries.
For instance, the Singaporean President Lee Kuan Yew had inherited a heavy and difficult legacy in the form of a poor and backward country but he managed to transform it into a developed country. He adopted the principle of “real reform starts from the top of the ladder”. Hence, the removal of malignant residues from the state’s executive branch helps in doing the right thing.
The Saudi leadership began to process the files from the right angle. Concerning the issue of corruption, it worked on eradicating it from its roots, and compelled the corrupt to return large sums of money to the public treasury. It also changed the method of dealing with government projects, which reduced their costs, after being riddled with bribery and favoritism.
This step was a prelude to other steps that led to a change in the social mindset based on care and total dependence on the state.
In fact, the great openness especially in the entertainment and local tourism sectors provided thousands of job opportunities to young people, and stopped the draining of billions of dollars on overseas tourism.
Also, reform decisions enabled women’s participation in the labor market, liberating them from many social restrictions, as well as ending the punishment of flogging, amending the laws related to bankruptcy and debts, and preventing the imprisonment of those in debt. This constitutes a qualitative shift in the economic movement, the fruits of which had begun to appear but its progress was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some of these matters were in the past and were criticized by international institutions. However, the new policy changed the negative image of the country. We do not exaggerate when we say these changes are similar to those adopted by the 16th American President Abraham Lincoln who put the United States of America on the path of renaissance by announcing the liberation of slaves, a practice that had placed a shameful blemish on the forehead of his country for decades.
Indeed, the entire world is engaged in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic, but the negative consequences of the harsh measures taken in most of the countries have started casting a shadow on the economies of nations, and it is not possible to escape without cooperation between the people and their governments, especially in economies that rely on a single commodity for national income like Gulf Cooperation Council countries that rely on oil.
There is no doubt that the Saudi economy is solid, as realized by most observers. However, this does not mean no painful measures should be taken to protect the economy and ensure it continues at a high pace of progress.
US President John Kennedy, after he was elected as President, was asked, “What will America do for us (Americans) during your reign?” and he replied in his famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country”.
So if the leadership of Saudi Arabia, through its Minister of Finance, spoke with such transparency to the citizens, then these people must reciprocate by performing their duties before asking what their country will do for them.
During World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the British nation, “I may not guarantee you a second course of meal, but I guarantee you that our country will emerge from this tribulation victorious and powerful.”
This phrase, which materialized in the year 1945 with the victory of the allies, is not very different from that of the Saudi Finance Minister Muhammad Al-Jada’an who said, “Painful measures will be taken, but we will emerge stronger from this crisis and even more powerful than before.”
This is not only the conviction of the Saudis, but also the conviction of the sons of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Everything that happened in the last five years of changes and increased platform for the participation of Saudis in the state has made Saudi Arabia stronger and more capable of confrontation.
This is what prompts us to tell King Salman bin Abdulaziz that “The world knows Saudi Arabia’s great potential and capabilities, but caution is necessary in such crises. You preferred pain over hope, and this is caution. Therefore, blessed are your directives; blessed is this great transparency”.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times