The Lesson Of Saudi Arabia's Silent Revolution
PARIS - A lot of people in Europe, especially the French, cheered heedlessly when the Arab Spring took off in 2011.
But then came the 70,000 dead from the Syrian war; the proliferation of terrorism in Libya and Mali; the assassination of the main Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid in a country where there is actually less freedom than before; and of course, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, knee deep in economic and social chaos.
The Arab Spring of these secular republics wasn’t as positive and peaceful as many had expected.
Another Arab Spring, more discreet and more promising, is happening in Saudi Arabia. In the past two years, King Abdullah has taken many revolutionary measures. In 2011, he granted women the right to vote – and to run as candidates in the municipal elections from 2015. Earlier this year, he announced that 30 women would be given a seat in the Saudi parliament – 20% of the assembly – a ratio comparable to the French parliament.
How far will this revolution go? It is a fragile revolution – protests are multiplying against the king’s audacity to make such huge leaps forward. It might not be notable from the point of view of a republic like France but in the past two years, something has come to light in the Arab world.
Aside from Algeria, the worst setbacks have happened in secular republics and democracies: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. And meanwhile, the cornerstones of political and economical stability and – albeit slow – social progress are to be found in monarchies and so-called feudal societies: Mohammed VI’s Morocco, King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia, Sheikha Mozah and Emir Al-Thani’s Qatar.
Time to act before China steps in
There are two things two take away from this. First, humility and patience. A few months are not enough to change traditional societies that were living under tents only a few decades ago.
Second, we should bet on a partnership with the Arab world. We share the same difficult challenges: high youth unemployment rates, which for the West is an embarrassing cancer and for the Arab world is a ticking time bomb. Each year, 700,000 young Egyptians and 300,000 Saudi youths enter the job market. There are also the issues of water, environment, energy, education and of course – and mostly – security. Whether it is civil or military, the challenge of security is paramount in this part of the world where the Americans have planned their disengagement, to the benefit of Russia, Iran and Asian powers.
It is time for France to step in, to help create an economic community between Europe and the Arab world. But it has to be done with haste. The other thing we recently learned about Saudi Arabia is that China and the other Asian powers are already very present in the minds and the speeches of those who make the big decisions.