Mai Yamani: Saudi society stands at a critical crossroads

From a speech by the expert on Saudi Arabia, given to Queen Mary, University of London
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The Independent Online

The wings of globalisation have blown away the robes of the Saudi Arabian rulers. The socialisation process of Saudi family and education on the one hand and exposure to the outside world, through travel, satellite television and the internet on the other, represents the crisis posed by globalisation.

Tradition and the closed society's values clash with modernity and knowledge that new technology and globalisation bring. While Saudi duties are summarised as "Loyalty to the system and hostility to the non-believers, the outsiders", globalisation is opening people's eyes to new ideas and beliefs.

Ironically, globalisation aided the export of the defensive ideology seen in the Saudi Kingdom. The Saudi royal family poured millions of dollars into institutions which fed extremist ideology to students at home and in parts of the Islamic world. The products of the Saudi educational and political system and of globalisation are extremist opinions, with Osama Bin Laden the glowing example. Although Bin Laden has been turned into an anti-globalisation icon, his success is built on his ability to unite the alienated and the embittered in a common fight.

Globalisation has weakened the Saudi State and strengthened localism, tribalism and sectarian identities. Irrespective of their nationality, whether it be Saudi Arabian, Syrian or Iraqi, tribes people will cross national borders and lines in the sand to fight for their brothers. Because of this, Saudi society now stands at a critical crossroads.

For a new story in Saudi Arabia to emerge, the Saudi rulers have to enter into real dialogue with at least some sections of their population. They have to enter a new phase, aware of modern ideas and global trends. All efforts to hold back the sands of the vast desert are fruitless because the winds of globalisation are blowing at hurricane force.