Majesty, they are your "windows to the civilized world."
Saudi King Fahd has succumbed to pneumonia, and King Abdullah has ascended to the throne in one of the most pivotal countries on the planet- Saudi Arabia. So what, exactly, does that mean to us? Not much. Saudi Arabia is a kingdom in turmoil, breeding terror and bleeding oil. Extremism is the order of the day- the world's number one terrorist (OBL in case you weren't paying attention) is just as pissed as the Saudis as he is at us, largely because they invited us onto sacred soil, to be sure, but still.
The Saudis, for their part, are as much in denial as the American Left is. Never mind the decline in wealth in the Kingdom over the past two decades
:Saudi Arabia's per capita income fell from over $20,900 per person in 1980 to about $12,200 per person in 2001. Saudi real (adjusted for inflation) oil export revenues, a cornerstone of the country's economy, fell more than 70% between 1980 and the 2004 forecast, while per capita real oil export revenues in 2004 were only 13% of their 1980 figure,
or the rise in extremism at home
:Even after September 11, the Wahhabi bureaucracy in Saudi Arabia continues to foster religious extremism. When bombs go off in Israel, Kenya, Indonesia, and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia is still the main source of the terrorist money. The kingdom is an unwavering nerve center of ideological indoctrination, incitement, and terrorist financing.From time to time, the Saudi elite attempts to confuse Western opinion by claiming that it too is the target of Islamic terror, a rather hollow gesture to hide its complicity in terrorism. Saudi Arabia, being a police state, the monarchy long ago could have ridded itself of extremist elements. But the sobering reality is that international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda are directly impelled by Saudi clerics.
The Arab News wants you to remember King Fahd as a patron of the arts and sports
:Throughout King Fahd's reign, arts and recreation flourished. Despite many demands of the state, he keenly supported the construction of recreational centers and the development of arts organizations and societies that encouraged the continuity of traditional art and culture.
OK, sure. Fahd, after all, is gone. Life is for the living, let the dead rest, yada yada yada. Abdullah is finally King (for now, he is 80 years old), but he has been de facto ruler of the nation for most of the last decade. So what can we expect from him know that he has the throne? More of the same. Abdullah is a totalitarian, he adheres to the old ways, with no sign of interest in modernizing the Kingdom or cracking down on extremists:
"We believe in the Islamic law as a constitution and in moderation as a way for improving and developing in all fields," local press Tuesday quoted Abdullah as saying.
"Anything in the country could be debated except Islamic faith and everything could be put out for discussion exception national unity, pride and security," Abdullah said during the inauguration of a development project at King Fahd Petroleum University Monday night.
He asserted that, "We will continue in the path of the religion without being affected by the extremist criminals and traitors," in an allusion to Muslim fundamentalists believed responsible for bombing attacks in the oil-rich kingdom.
The House of Saud will be busy in the coming months and years trying to establish the future successions. Their primary concern will be remaining in power. Abdallahlah has appointed a new Crown Prince and presumptive heir, Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who is himself on the far side of 80. He may in fact only be a place holder for his younger brother (72 years young), interior minister Prince Nayef, however. Noticing a pattern here?
Young Saudis, disenfranchised to begin with (local elections not withstanding), do not appear to have much to look forward to in the coming years. Future leaders are being identified for the strength of their connection to the past. For Saudi youth the future promises more of the same, but worse. With 60% of the population under the age of 25, and unemployment in the high teens this spells bad news for the house of Saud, and for us. Regular readers know that I do not believe that poverty causes terrorism, but combined with boredom, apathetic leadership and a steady diet of sanctioned anti-Western hate filled diatribes that pass as education, it does play a role. These kids may not be the next Mohammed Atta, but they can certainly be used as homicide bombers. Samar Fatany, that rarest of creatures, a female Saudi radio journalist has the following to say on this subject:
Schools, universities and academic institutions also are responsible for providing our youth with an education that meets the requirements of the job market and develops the potential of every student. Saudi researchers estimate that more than 50 percent of the work force is without a high school diploma, and college graduates make up less than 20 percent of the total population. Current public school graduates lack the mathematical, scientific and language skills necessary in the job market. English and an adequate knowledge of computers are mandatory today. They are our windows to the civilized world. Unfortunately, the majority of our graduates do not speak English, and they are also computer illiterate, which puts their average qualifications well below international standards.
Endless hours of boredom and wasted time in emptiness are reasons enough to make them seek adventure that can divert young people from healthy lives and destroy their chances for happiness and success. This also explains why many Saudi youths are easily brainwashed by extremists who advocate terrorism. At this stage in their lives, they are not mature enough and are vulnerable to the deviants, who may exploit them and use them for criminal purposes.
Half of our population is below 20 years old, so the researcher suggests the creation of a Ministry for Youth to look after their affairs. The Ministry of Education recently started modernizing its curricula and monitoring the performance of various institutions, with special attention paid to science and vocational institutes. Almost 25 percent of the country’s general budget has been allocated to education. However, Saudi education experts and academics still hold the universities responsible for the slow and ineffective educational programs that do not keep pace with the socioeconomic changes sweeping the country. Furthermore, recommendations and the mechanism for implementing reforms to the educational system were identified in Crown Prince Abdullah’s opinion document on higher education. We need to see efficient and quick implementation. We hope and pray that bureaucratic and financial reasons will not stand in the way of much-needed educational reforms in the Kingdom.
Educators stress the need to build and maintain strong citizenship among the youth in order to foster patriotism and national pride. Moderation and dialogue should replace fanaticism and extremism that were the dominating forces in Saudi society in recent years. The National Dialogue Center, initiated by Crown Prince Abdullah, has a large role to play in promoting a culture of constructive debate. One of the significant issues raised by young people during the fourth National Dialogue, held recently in the Eastern Province, was the problem of too much leisure time on the hands of Saudi youth. The young participants also called for the establishment of literary clubs, libraries and better facilities for sports activities to enable them to invest their days in useful and constructive ways.
In addition to that, they criticized the curricula and urged implementation of much-needed revisions. They attributed the decline of educational standards in the Kingdom to unqualified teachers and inadequate facilities. Upgrading the educational system is one of the many challenges that the Saudi leadership has to address. However, catering to the large youth segment of society, which constitutes 60 percent of the total population, and providing the guidance to protect them from extremism and fanaticism is a formidable challenge that should not be underestimated. Will these educational challenges be addressed with the required urgency? Can Saudi youth hope for a better future soon? Let us not procrastinate and miss the opportunity to protect our youth with quality education and a fulfilling environment that leaves no room for terrorist activities.
Hillary got it wrong when she said that it takes a village to raise a child, but she was not too far off. Sometimes it takes a village to remind a parent of his or her responsibilities. If the House of Saud wants there to be a Kingdom for future rulers to control they need a wake up call. Abdullah should remember that the future of his nation lies not in the hands of a group of old men, but in the idle hands and hate filled minds of the young. No village, including a global one, will stand idle while the neighborhood children play with fire and gasoline.