A tribute to Saudi Arabia’s great reformer


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is truly blessed to be led by King Salman — 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 Arabia’s Gulf allies.

He is from the same mold as the “Fathers of the UAE,” Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, 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 $2bn on health, agriculture, refugees, water, sanitation and hygiene in more than 40 countries. Programs 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 accession to the throne following the demise of King Abdullah, his love for his people was evident. During his long tenure of more than five 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 and improve infrastructure, and he became known as a peacemaker, solving disputes between tribes and ensuring all social sectors were treated justly and with respect. In short, he loves his people and genuinely strives for their wellbeing. 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 bin Salman, 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. The Saudi youth are enthused by mushrooming theaters, 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, King Salman inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology — known as “Etidal” — that promotes moderation and acceptance. There, specialists are trained to recognize radical speech patterns, confront extremist propaganda on the internet, and monitor reports in the media.

Vision 2030, the plan to diversify the economy away from reliance on oil, is nothing less than genius.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Vision 2030, the 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 and boost business opportunities and jobs while providing transparent governance.

These are very important steps in the Arab world’s most conservative country, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites and where drastic change cannot occur overnight without pushback. King Salman is obliged to walk a tightrope between facilitating progress and the preservation of traditional mores.

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

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

There are many more rungs of the ladder to be climbed to fulfill the king’s 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 launched in the media over the Jamal Khashoggi affair. To imagine that a member of the Saudi leadership 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, who was believed to have been “co-opted by organizations and countries hostile to the Kingdom,” to return home overstepped their mandate. Many countries have hailed the findings and arrests.

Eleven have been charged and, if prosecutors get their way, five will receive the death penalty. Shame on Turkey for its politicization of this criminal incident. The government of a country that 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 Erdogan has whipped up international hysteria in a cynical attempt to keep the story front and center of the news agenda 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.

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 and our religion, as well as global security and prosperity. As long as their leaders are like King Salman, with a tender heart and a strong, steady hand, no conniver or plotter can succeed in doing us harm.

  • Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor

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