The question: “Why do the Saudis succeed and many around them fail?” It seems simple, but the answer to this question is very complex and not enough for one article in a newspaper. First of all, you may be disappointed if you think that this article is a compliment or praise, as politics is a science that requires stopping at political and social phenomena in an attempt to understand what is going on. In his book “Why Nations Fail,” Professor of Politics at the University of Chicago James Robinson identifies the features and signs of the success of states versus the failure of some. The first of these, from his point of view, is that successful nations are those that seek, through good management, to raise the standard of living of citizens within their borders, while failed countries are those in which a high percentage of their citizens live below the poverty line. Saudi Arabia is a country whose citizens live in a good condition, compared to many neighboring countries. Also, during the past five years of the rule of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the administration of the Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it has succeeded in getting rid of the overloads imposed by the past, and the state seemed As if a light traveler with one bag does not carry unnecessary burdens, leaving the plane directly to the street without waiting.
Those who specialized in the study of society and the state in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, if you asked them: How do they see the future of the Kingdom seven years ago, and you described to them a situation similar to the one we see today, and how long it takes the Kingdom to reach this point, they would have told you that it takes half a century of Time, yet everything we see happened in half a decade.
There is no doubt that development in the Kingdom is cumulative and conservative in most of its steps since King Abdulaziz Al Saud unified the Kingdom and made it the largest area in which Arabs live in safety and tranquility.
We are now in the reign of King Salman, and what we are seeing of the speed and extent of change is truly astounding, and although the system of government is fixed, the way of managing the relationship of society with the state has changed a lot, as well as the relations of the components of society with each other, especially in the relationship of the sexes, which is one of the indicators of states successful. In order not to flatten the matter, I must first admit that I am a student and observer from the outside who is scraping the first crust, knowing that societies are like an onion, layers on top of each other, and here I will not address all layers in a short article.
There is no doubt that the Kingdom has other factors that help the growth and development of the state, such as oil and its other financial capabilities, which lubricate the movement of society, but the most important indicator is the replacement of individuals by institutions in contemporary Saudi Arabia. What was done by individuals in order to moisten the social contract in terms of gifts to those affected in general in the past, today it has become a role played by institutions, not individuals.
In her book published in 1997 entitled The Price of Wealth, which began as a doctoral dissertation while studying at Harvard University, academic Karen Chaudhry discussed the political economy of both Saudi Arabia and Yemen as a comparative study of the rentier economy (Saudi Arabia is rent from oil and Yemen is rent from the revenues of workers in Abroad) in three periods, the period of building the state until 1973, then the oil boom period (1973/1983), then the period of economic decline (1984/1990) and the impact of this on the relationship between society and the state, while the decline in rents coming from foreign labor in Yemen led to The state’s encroachment, the decline of the Saudi economy led to an increase in the role of the private sector, the state’s adjustment of its conditions, and the development of its institutions. The issue of institutional development is the criterion, in her opinion, which differentiates between a successful state that responds to the requirements of its society, and a failed state that exploits its society. Saudi Arabia has always been a flexible country, and its flexibility increased in meeting the requirements of broad segments of society during the reign of King Salman.
Driving and its quality is the locomotive or the engine of the train that pulls the society forward, and this requires determining the speed and networking between the society and the state, so that the rest of the train cars do not escape from the engine, and during the past five years, the Kingdom moved at an appropriate speed and moved the state from the world of traditional societies to the world of modernity.
And back to James Robinson’s book and his pivotal question: Why do some countries thrive and others fail? There are many indicators, not all of them economic, to explain the matter, including the question of identity, the question of society’s relationship with the state, how people organize their societies and institutions, and what is the criterion for advancement in society; Is it competency-based or reward-based? There are also other factors such as geography and capabilities of the state, as well as the culture of the community.
If we go back to Max Weber and his book on Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism, we find that the philosophy of the state in the Kingdom values individual capabilities and does not interfere in the private affairs of individuals, meaning the relationship of Sharia with wealth and capital, and in that it is closer to the spirit that Weber described and brought Western society to the capitalist state.
There is a clear and unmistakable cultural focus that also suggests a disengagement between a specific interpretation of Salafism, which represents the ideology of the state, and open interpretations of the views of the righteous predecessors. Muhammad bin Saud in 1744, but it began before that in 1727.
In King Salman’s decision, which focused on the founding day, there is symbolism to put history in its proper context.
So the question of culture and letting go of the burdens of the past is pivotal in trying to answer the question of why the Saudis succeed and others fail.
There is a Middle Eastern peculiarity in trying to answer the question, which is that the development in our societies is happening from above at a faster rate, meaning that the bold decisions taken by the Saudi leadership regarding the relationship of society, the state, religion (with its unilateral interpretations) and the state have resolved matters from which the rest of the countries of the region suffer. Chronically without a solution, or solutions that do not lead to something like renewing religious discourse, combating terrorism, and so on. All of these matters were resolved by the leadership of a firm king who represents a historical continuity of a monarchy that always renews itself, and purifies the state from impurities that it sometimes clings to (and examples are many) to reach a formula It protects the state and society from threats, and King Salman has always been essential in that during the era of his predecessors, as well as the leadership of a resolute and young prime minister and crown prince, which helped a lot in throwing all these superstitions and impurities hindering progress behind the back of the state, for the state to move forward with confident steps for the future, Without stumbling into the mud of the past. There is no doubt that the nature of the political system and the social contract in a monarchy differs from that in republican regimes, and these axioms are not subject to discussion here, although they are an important context that may take us a step forward in trying to answer the question “Why do the Saudis succeed and many around them fail?” I think this question calls for contemplation and thinking, and the answers to it may come in many forms, and perhaps a number of people will try to address the answer, but it will remain a question for the region for quite some time. It needs different thinking and theorizing, especially from those who thought that Saudi Arabia would remain as it was for several decades, and these were not the writings of people who could be described as stupid, but rather the writings of researchers whose tools did not help them get acquainted with a scene to say the least that it is not simple, if not very complex. However, the capabilities of King Salman and his Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, to manage the scene with rigor and firmness remain the decisive factor in this success, and whoever comes even a little closer to understanding King Salman’s personality, do not miss the note that accuracy and firmness in management are two essential components of Khadim’s personality. The Two Holy Mosques, this is with regard to the internal scene. As for the way Prince Mohammed bin Salman manages the file of foreign relations, especially with the great powers and their relations with the whole region, this needs a detailed article, but it is important here to say that the ability of the Saudi leadership to gather Islamic countries to meet US President Donald Trump Then he gathered the Arab countries in Riyadh to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and this reminds of two things: the first is the independence of the decision in dealing with the major countries (non-alignment). The second thing is that we are facing a young regional leadership that attracts the attention of the world, to the point that makes those who follow Saudi affairs reconsider their approach. Just as they misunderstood the internal scene, they may admit their misunderstanding of the external behavior of the Kingdom… and the rest of the conversation.