By Hussein Shobokshi
When children in Saudi Arabia are asked what they would like to be when they grow up, the answers are generally typical of many countries around the world: Most wish to become doctors, engineers, police officers or businesspeople. It is rare, however, for Saudi children to say they want to become lawyers.
But this might be changing. Saudi Arabia is becoming a visible and active member of the powerful G-20 economic bloc, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and has ratified various international agreements, protocols and laws. All of these factors and more have been putting benign pressure on Saudi society to make the role of law an integral part of daily life and to ensure it is the foundation of the relationship between citizens and the state.
Being a lawyer in Saudi Arabia was for a long time simply “a freak job”, it was an odd occupation that was looked down on and frowned upon by religious scholars who saw it as an attempt to secularize Saudi society, kidnap its “values and wisdom” and turn it into a dysfunctional copy of other societies. This is obviously an exaggerated fear and a xenophobic approach to the challenges facing Saudi Arabia today. It is becoming more common to see youngsters of both genders choosing to study law in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and showing the determination to apply this knowledge.
The challenge is not simple, mind you, because we are talking about a complete paradigm shift and a new state of mind, to accept something that was “unacceptable” before. The legal profession has always played an important role in the development of societies; some of the most important social thinkers have been lawyers such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Mustafa Kamel and many others. They all managed to challenge the status quo and create a social dynamism to benefit their people.
The rule of law is not merely a convenient slogan or a fortune cookie with a nice message. It is truly a way of regulating the relationship between citizens and the state and is the ultimate empowering tool to transform a country from a state into a nation.