Opinion

A Saudi-phobic West

October 26, 2022
Dr. Jamil Aldandany
Dr. Jamil Aldandany

By Dr. Jamil Aldandany

Few societies in the West unite liberals and conservatives like Saudi Arabia. We Saudis often are described as extreme and xenophobic. While it is true that such people do exist in Saudi Arabia like in almost every society, they are now marginalized and have little impact, if any, on public life. Unfortunately, the people who fit the same description in Western countries are rehabilitated and have become mainstream, participate in elections, and some even sit in parliaments where racist statements and extreme positions are voiced and seldom condemned.

It seems to me that Saudi Arabia's pretrial of its government, people and culture is less the result of disagreement over specific issues such as energy policy or diplomatic differences than an inherent and irrational Saudi-phobia rampant in Western media and among politicians of all persuasions. The result of this is that Saudi Arabia is constantly demonized and attempts at explanations and counterarguments to such mischaracterizations are in general willfully ignored.

Regardless of what progress is made in Saudi Arabia to transform its society, which admittedly remains unfinished business, many in the West appear incapable of conceiving Saudis with any degree of humanity or ability to progress. Instead, Saudi Arabia is portrayed as secretive, violent, xenophobic and constantly in need of browbeating. However, this attitude changes when commercial contracts are sought or when the country’s diplomatic influence is desired. Only then is Saudi Arabia treated with respect and fairness.

Not enough credit is given to Saudi Arabia for its judicial and educational reforms, improvements in the judicial rights of women and consequently their public visibility. In the Kingdom today, levels of women’s education and employment have exceeded what even the most optimistic Saudi watchers could have predicted. From what I observe, the trend is now unstoppable. There is the adage that Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, changes in the Kingdom are moving steadily, at a pace appropriate for its specific conditions and cultural traditions. That must be acknowledged and respected.

The West will do everyone a favor by not trying to impose its values on other societies, some of which are not necessarily universal, while at the same time being selective and inconsistent in demanding respect and application for these very values from all countries, which are at times politically motivated.

Lawmakers need to realize that Saudi Arabia and for that matter other Gulf states have their own assessment of their security concerns, economic priorities, and global outlook. This realization must be calibrated and the new realities must seriously be taken into account.


October 26, 2022
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