We are insulted.
Did he think presenting himself as a 30-year old prince prince who sports a “dirty” beard, disregarding the traditional black and gold over garment the bisht worn by state officials, or plastering his full-lipped glamour shots all over the Kingdom would be enough ton convince us? Is that what he thinks that we, the youth and majority of Saudis, will judge and make our decisions and choice of allegiance based upon?
Who does he think we are?
That his polished image and public relations teams, including the multimillion dollar contracted public relations firms in America, Britain, France and elsewhere, could convince us to turn a blind-eye to his lack of experience and knowledge?
Who do he take us for?
We are used to being dismissed and patronized by the West. We have studied in the West, worked in the West, befriended Westerners, sometimes married Westerners, welcomed them in the Kingdom; we know their stereotypes about us and their ignorance of our country, our customs, our culture, and our religion. We combat it, we work against it, those who have studied abroad were doubly-tasked to be ambassadors of our nation and our people in a hearts-and-minds campaign to show that the 20 million Saudis are far from the monolithic, fundamentalist, nouveau riche savages armed with terrorist ideologies and oil money that Western media has long painted us.
We have spent years, for many of us, most of our lives, attempting to change the perception of our country, and most importantly, of ourselves. We have strived to show the world that far from the monolith that we are portrayed as, that Saudis come in all shapes and sizes, all colours, all socioeconomic backgrounds; we come in a rich and diverse variety of Islamic traditions, Sunni and Shia, activists and quietists, practicing and non-practicing; what unites us is three things: our faith, our experience together, and our special relationship to our rulers.
Now we are dismissed and patronized by a previously unknown 30-year old prince who thinks we will all blindly believe his empty rhetoric and perfected public persona. Does he think we cannot read? That we cannot, rather quickly, understand and realise the emptiness of his plans? That power and control of the state’s wealth is being increasingly centralised on him, without a benefit for the country? Does he really think we are such sheep?
And did he think we forgot?
Did he think we forgot the principles upon which we’ve relegated to our rulers political decision-making in exchange for the advancement and development of the country to the benefit of the citizens? Our social contract was not merely made by submission or conquest, but by decades of negotiations between the citizens and our leaders. Negotiations that have resulted in the re-establishment of the Shoura Council in 1991, that have led to the re-introduction of municipal elections since their discontinuation in the 1960s, negotiations that have brought women to the Shoura council, and enfranchised them to vote, and negotiations that will continue to facilitate the social evolution and progress of our country.
We have been criticized for being pampered or spoiled with subsidies by the West, but we took it in stride; we knew our rulers safeguarded this unique social contract and kept it near and dear to all their hearts and their decision-making. In a country were we have forfeited participation in decision-making in exchange for a stable, safe nation that facilitated a decent standard of living. An island of stability in the sea of uncertainty that is, unfortunately, our region of the world. The outside world criticized us and insulted us, but we knew that those who mattered, our decision-makers, our rulers, knew this was our social contract. For that, we are grateful. For such access to basic utilities and amenities, we are unapologetic.
We are not the first generation of Saudis of the 1930s; nor the generation of the Arab Cold War of the 1960s, nor the generation of the Islamic Awakening of the 1990s. We do not feel grateful for the basic utilities at subsidized prices provided by our homeland, the largest producer of crude oil in the world. Our citizenship entitles us to a secure and stable nation, at peace with its neighbours, so long as they are at peace with us. More importantly, our citizenship entitles us to a sound and wise and seasoned leadership. A wise leadership based on consultation (shoura): from consultation at the local level, to consultation at the highest levels of the state. Our political system was designed to avoid the megalomania of one man over his brothers, over his advisers, over his people to the detriment of the state, as we have seen our nation and society collapse before in history due to in-fighting between our leaders, and attempts of one man to usurp too much power for his own egotistical needs.
And so we are angry.
We are angry the accumulation of so much power in the hands of one corrupt glorified adolescent who has never been told no. An ungrateful brother who has side-lined his older cousins, brothers and uncles with more political and social savoir-faire, to stroke his own ego. While a few days at the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh and first-class travel might be enough to convince Bloomberg or other foreign journalists who faun over him, we are not so easily swayed. Not even “the biggest bribe in the world” could convince us otherwise. We see through his primed and performed talks.
They talk of populism on the rise in America and Europe; here at home in Saudi Arabia too, a leader is emerging, riding a wave of popularity based on a troubled economy and overall discontent with the status quo. And just as pundits rightfully fear the populist and simplified rhetoric of Donald Trump, Britain First, and Marine Le Pen; so too should they see why the silent majority in Saudi Arabia is indignant with he who would be called “Mr. Everything.”
Or, more adequately, perhaps, “Mr. Size-Matters.”
Mr. Biggest-this-in-the-world, or Mr. Biggest-that-in-the-world. Mr. Trillion. Mr. Anything-to-keep-me-in-the-headlines. He has insulted our intelligence with his numerous grandiose speeches consisting of little substance, simple words with exaggerated values. A massive PR campaign about “Saudi Arabia: Vision 2030” which is full of ads across Riyadh, on the radio, and on state television; in the newspapers, online, with its own Twitter account and crisp, elegant infographics?—?all the trappings of a PR campaign, and much less so of a genuine economic, political, or social programme of national transformation that it is purported to be.
This is the man who would be the Margaret Thatcher of Saudi Arabia?
400 billion riyals spent over the first 10 months of his investiture as Deputy Crown Prince. Saudi banks have been exhausted with their arms twisted into loaning to the government. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)’s assets have decreased by $339 billion riyals since the Deputy Crown Prince became the Kingdom’s economic and financial tsar. And when newspapers of SAMA’s head itself have questioned this rapid spending with little results? Just last week we saw the governor of SAMA replaced; alongside tens of other experienced technocrats, replaced by those close to the entourage of the Deputy Crown Prince.
Public pension funds syphoned off to buy, at double its price, a Russian oligarch’s yacht immediately, in time for the summer season on the French Riviera, with the biggest and best toy; while claiming the Kingdom can no longer afford to subsidize basic utility needs such as water and electricity to citizens who have no say in how the state is run. Public Investment Fund money purportedly used to be buying half of Paris’s Place Vendôme, as the French justice ministry abandons its central location for a new, less expensive to maintain, headquarters northeast of Paris.
Is our nation now reduced to purchasing second-rate allies for a new foreign policy with little thought behind it?
The Deputy Crown Prince has praised Putin, as Saudi Arabia fights in a coalition against the Putin-backed Assad regime; he has twice failed miserably to convince Saudis, Arabs, Muslims and the world that he has masterminded a “Unified Arab Military” or an “Islamic Alliance against Terrorism,” and we have seen nothing come of either. “Mr. Everything” appears to be “Mr. Anything for Attention.” And it is not positive attention that he is seeking; but rather attention to his purported national transformation program which appears to be nothing more than a cover for the centralization of power on one, irrational, unexperienced, corrupt, money-laundering prince.
What has come of this “Islamic alliance,” that the Deputy Crown Prince himself did not even create himself? Rather he sacked the late-King Abdullah’s advisors working behind the scenes to build such an alliance, and announced it to the world?—?once again?—?for his own public image and credibility, destroying the effectiveness of any such alliance. Saudis trust in and have seen the results of the Kingdom’s counterterrorism programme?—?why should we celebrate a Deputy Crown Prince who would attempt to discredit our counterterrorism leaders merely for his own publicity and quest for power?
Are we to trust him?
As we speak, our country is being overrun by a megalomaniac, who disrespects his own elder brothers and his father, the sovereign of our country. Are we to trust a man who would side-line his own brothers, use his father’s senility and physical weakness to launder from honest, hard-working Saudis’ retirement funds, remove experienced technocrats and replace them with his own lackeys and foreign consultants; a man who thinks so little of us, that his own PR campaign pushes a “National Transformation Programme” that contains next to no substance, all the while destroying any remaining geopolitical stability in the Arab world, not for the betterment of any of the millions of suffering Arabs and Muslims, but merely to discredit his own cousin, the Crown Prince?
This young author does not, and will not trust him; nor do hundreds of thousands of other young Saudis who are offended by seeing this man’s “youth” displayed as something that should make us obliged to blindly follow him.
We reject the bribing and purchases of alliances that benefit one man and put the lives of the Kingdom, our kin-states in the Arab world, and our brothers and sisters across the Islamic world at stake.
We reject the capitalism on steroids and privatisation of key government utilities for the benefit of the Deputy Crown Prince and his entourage to invest and buy shares in.
We are angry.
We will not shy away from voicing our opinions in terms of those in whom we trust to preserve and protect our country; and we will not shy away from voicing our concerns that he would strip us of our security and prosperity for his own financial gain.
And we are insulted.
Insulted that a man who has never known the reality of the day-to-day existence in Saudi Arabia, would think that he could fool us. Respect and loyalty is earned. It is not bought.
Even if we are sent an envelope with bullets inside it from the Deputy Crown Prince himself.