SAUDI ARABIAN PERSPECTIVE
Ever since a young Tunisian fruit seller named Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010, a wave of change has spread across North Africa and the Middle East. Becoming known as the Arab Awakening, this uprising of ordinary citizens brought an end to the decades of authoritarianism, political stagnation and quietism. While the situation in many of those countries remains extremely vulnerable, the situation in Syria is particularly worrying and dangerous. With the conflict descending into sectarian warfare, it has begun to spread into Syria’s neighbours including Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Regional and global tensions are now simmering over the crisis as the international community struggles to come with a compressive strategy.
As part of the “Turkish Insights” Programme, the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON) invited Her Royal Highness, Princess Basmah to a Policy Dialogue on The Arab awakening – A Saudi Arabian perspective.
In this speech, Princess Basmah offers her views on the Arab Awakening at the policy briefing held today, Monday, 22 October 2012, at the Résidence Palace in Brussels.
HRH Princess Basmah speech at the European Policy Center – headquarters of the European Union in Brussels
“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins.” So says William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham.
John Dalberg Acton, the first Baron of Acton, for his part says: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely.” For my part, I observe that “ultimate power corrupts and corruption fuels ultimate power.”
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be addressing you today and I would like to thank the European Policy Centre and Tuskon for making this possible.
I must firstly offer the European Union my congratulations for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and I hope they achieve the peace they seek within their communities.
I know you have invited me to talk about the so-called Arab Spring from a Saudi Arabian perspective, but this seems to me to be talking about only a small part of the picture. At any rate, talking about this narrow topic would soon lead me to the EU economic breakdown, which then would take me to the US.
To me, there are certain fundamentals of life that provide all of us with the dignity and composure to live life in peace. One needs freedom of speech, education, health, and social security. By social security, I mean primarily equal access to opportunity, and equal access to state provision, so that by giving their consent, the governed may live with peace of mind and a sense of physical security – in harmony, and with respect.
I see the global picture. I think it is not possible to talk with much consequence about one region in exclusion, since the world simply is not configured in that way any longer. Modern communications and modern technologies make the world smaller… email, Facebook, Twitter mean that no region is isolated anymore, so trying to analyse using narrow terms will not produce an accurate picture.
We can no longer afford to think in terms of exceptionalism – the idea that somehow, a region’s or a country’s problems are neatly parcelled up and cause trouble to them alone. On our increasingly levelled playing field, our global problems are forever linked. Your problem is my problem, and vice versa.
I advocate reform, not revolution. Revolution has not been the catalyst for lasting change that so many of us hoped for. We have seen bloodshed, destruction – and this is not the path to a prosperous world. But these last five years have been hugely significant. Something central in the world has changed, and nothing can take away the momentous nature of all that has happened.
New social balances call for new approaches. I want to talk about something today – a New Way, the Fourth Way, perhaps it can be called. I don’t want to simply explore and probe the world’s problems and set them out neatly in an academic paper. I’m interested in solutions.
What are the ingredients? Perhaps first I should ask whether this is dreaming or realism? Are my expectations too high? I don’t think so. I think it is possible to come up with something new and unlike the old, something which we didn’t think was possible. I’m talking about an implementable way – not an academic concept that sounds good and reads well, but simple words and big bold actions.
We need to accept that the failures within the political systems we have been using to manage international and domestic cooperation are showing signs of serious distress – to the extent that admitting defeat must surely be making its way up our ‘to do’ list.
The basic problem is that we are trying to build on the ruins of nations’ structures that failed, rather than building a habitat that chimes with our problems of today, and those of the future generations. This doesn’t mean we shed all that we have learned and start afresh, but we must use our accumulated experience to build a new home, with architecture unlike we had before, but which suits our environment as we define it today, suits our tastes.
We need each other’s help to rebuild our countries, we need to promote the sharing of our learning, arts and culture, we need to promote inter-faith dialogue. This is the path to establishing a longer lasting peace that has no need for weapons of mass destruction, no need to hold discussions about who will press the button first: Israel or Iran.
From my perspective, the most urgent matter is not Syria, not Yemen or Bahrain, or what has happened in Saudi, or what will happen there in the future – but how to encourage Israel and Iran to step back from the destructive war-footing that they are on. But of course I must make clear that my country, Saudi Arabia, is also in need of reform.
There have been one or two reports in the last year – significantly, one from Amnesty International in December 2011, and then last week, one from the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee – which make some very serious allegations about the state of human rights and freedom of expression in Saudi.
I can only say that I encourage revealing this information and addressing these issues without delay and in the spirit of openness and honesty with the people, so that we may avoid falling into the trap of other so-called Arab Spring countries that have seen revolution, and all the destruction and bloodshed that goes with it. I hope Kuwait gives serious consideration to this right now.
It is not enough to just repeat ourselves behind closed doors, deciding what is possible and what is not. We must start with a footprint, some kind of marker to say we have begun, to say the sacrifices of all those who have lost their lives in recent years have not been in vain.
The P5 at the United Nations must come together to promote a bill, a charter, a codification of the help that countries must offer one another if they are to prosper, because they hold the authority and the sanctions that they can apply all around the world. I would call upon them to come up with a platform – A New Way, The Fourth Way – engineered and inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, the EU crisis, the US crisis and the African and South American tragedies.
Practically, there are many things to be considered. Social structures and balances, economic linkages and distribution, management of cyberspace, systems in place to ensure rights are respected, whether at an individual, national, or transnational level.
Let’s focus on the positive, on the things that unite us, and the starting point must be an understanding of the fundamental rights and laws that should apply everywhere. They do not have to start as complicated legal systems of which there are many examples the world over – they need to be simple, and not so broad as to exclude anyone with different value systems and cultural contexts.
This requires a new global charter along with human rights provisions that will guarantee economic, social, ethnic and religious equality. I dream of this new approach for new generations tailored to each country and social context including the very important but scarcely governed frontier of cyberspace.
Some change, uniting change, is already underway – but we need to shine a light to see it. Egypt provides us with a very up-to-date and in one way encouraging example. Chief State Prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud triumphantly resumed his duties in the post from which President Mursi had attempted to dismiss him. This is just one example, admittedly taken out of the broader Egyptian context, but in principle this is something to take note of. In the Mubarak era, the Chief Prosecutor would have been fired, end of story.
So I call on all those in my country and elsewhere, when they are innocent of blame, to do the same to say no to corruption and submissiveness, wherever you may be, and whatever role you may have. This bringing about change by remaining firm, by acting with integrity; this is saying no without the need for revolution.
So – we need fresh ideas, and we need fresh young leaders – empowered and confident enough to lead for all their citizens, not just the narrow and unelected elites that traditionally have kept them in their positions of power. We have to inspire the masses that the world is made with passion, not wars.
It’s about time that we let go of the old ways and systems which have proved not to work for all. We must instead embrace change with wisdom and adopt The New Way, the Fourth Way – and start the journey down our Yellow Brick Road (Wizard of Oz, 1939).