A folkloric dance troupe performs the Ardha, the traditional sword dance of Saudi Arabia, as part of the centennial celebrations at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Last April.
The recapture of Riyadh by the young Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud is viewed by political scientists and historians as a defining moment in the recent history of the Arabian Peninsula. His successful campaign to reclaim his patrimony and reinstitute the Saudi State that had ruled much of the peninsula since 1744, led to the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and set the nation on a course of profound socioeconomic development while safeguarding its Islamic and Arab heritage.
Saudi Arabia is observing the centennial of this historic event with a year-long calendar of activities that began in January. Various government agencies and private institutions in the Kingdom and abroad have organized conferences, exhibitions, symposia, and celebrations to help provide a better understanding of this unique event and to highlight its political, social, economic and cultural impact on the Kingdom and the region.
In April, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, observed the centennial by putting together a four-day symposium entitled "Saudi Arabia One Hundred Years Later: Critical Reflections". This symposium brought together scholars and historians from Saudi Arabia, the United States and other countries, as well as members of the diplomatic community, to discuss the significance of the event and its impact on the stability and development of Saudi Arabia, the region and beyond. Seminars, conferences and receptions at the Embassy, the Middle East Institute, Georgetown University, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the Library of Congress and Capitol Hill brought together dozens of officials and scholars to discuss and reflect on the developments that have taken place in Saudi Arabia over the past century.
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, in a statement read on his behalf by Ambassador Ahmed Kattan, said that in addition to uniting the fractious tribes of Arabia into a cohesive state, King Abdul Aziz rendered many lasting valuable services. "He supported the principle of consultation and endorsed modern means of progress while defending religion, the Holy Sites, the monarchy and the nation," Prince Bandar stated. "King Abdul Aziz was concerned with guaranteeing human rights in deeds as well as with words. He had great respect for human dignity....[and] emphasized the cohesion of the family and cooperation among all people for the good of humanity, regardless of nationality or religion. He was also determined to protect religious freedom, the sanctity of property, life and privacy, and individual liberty. Furthermore, he advocated mutual cooperation within society and eradication of ignorance, and guaranteed housing and health care for all citizens."
The first session of the symposium was held at the King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt Auditorium at the Embassy on April 26. Moderated by Ambassador Kattan, the panel consisted of Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Fayez, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council), Dr. Ahmed Saifadeen of Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University, Dr. Sdaka Fadel and Dr. Waheed Hashim of King Abdul Aziz University, Dr. Ahmed Al-Yousef of Saudi Gazette newspaper and First Secretary Adel Al-Jubeir.
Dr. Al-Fayez gave a presentation that highlighted the important tenets of Saudi foreign policy, which include guaranteeing the Kingdom's security and territorial integrity, the comprehensive development of Saudi society and the promotion of Islamic principles and values. Saudi Arabia also participates in international efforts to ensure regional and global peace and security. To realize these objectives, Dr. Al-Fayez explained, Saudi Arabia has used its stature as an important Islamic country, a major player in the Arab world, an economic power in the global market and an important founding member of many international organizations to successfully undertake diplomatic efforts. Dr. Al-Fayez observed that as a credible mediator, the Kingdom has helped resolve many disputes and crises, including those in Lebanon, Algeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Arabian Gulf and, more recently, the Lockerbie dispute.
Dr. Al-Fayez noted that, especially during the last fifty years, two aspects of Saudi foreign policy have contributed to the stability of the region. First is the role of Saudi Arabia as a mediator in many intra-Arab disputes. As an example he cited the national reconciliation accord reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, between opposing Lebanese factions which brought to an end that country's 15 years of civil war. The second aspect is the Saudi disbursement of economic aid to Arab, Islamic and other countries. Saudi economic aid, which is non-conditional and usually in the form of grants, has exceeded 90 billion dollars since 1973.
Speaking at a seminar organized by the Middle East Institute on April 27, and moderated by MEI President Roscoe Suddarth, Dr. Saifadeen said that religion is a powerful element in society which is being either used or abused in various countries. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the land of the Two Holy Mosques, religion has played an important role in shaping the nation and ensuring its continued development. When King Abdul Aziz embarked on his campaign to establish the Kingdom, the region was in a state of acute disorder and instability. He followed a policy of integration, adaptation and renewal, and introduced the rule of law and institutions that laid the foundation of the modern state.
Dr. Waheed Hashim said King Abdul Aziz manifested a charisma that helped him in building the nation, the state and the political system, foreign policy and media policy. King Abdul Aziz possessed a leadership quality that had a futuristic outlook and attracted people and communities to fulfill the general policies and objectives of the nation. As a result, he was able to create social cohesion and put an end to internal conflicts, thereby setting the stage for the establishment of the Kingdom.
Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) hosted the next event. During a day-long seminar on April 28, scholars and analysts from Saudi Arabia, the United States and other countries presented papers in three different panels. Professor Mamoun Fandy of CCAS spoke about Saudi Arabia's unique case of state-building and King Abdul Aziz's successful efforts to mold a nation out of various factions. Dr. Joseph Kechichian attributed the success of the Saudi leadership from the time of King Abdul Aziz to its realistic outlook and dependence on Islam as the source of its heritage.
Dr. Fadel's presentation focused on the role of Saudi Arabia as a major stabilizing force in the chaotic region of the Middle East. He argued that had the Kingdom not been established as one single entity, there could have been in its place as many as ten smaller states, with a greater likelihood of disagreements over borders and resources, and consequently, greater instability.
Addressing a panel on oil and economic development, Professor Ibrahim Oweiss of the Department of Economics at Georgetown University said in addition to being a source of political stability in the region, Saudi Arabia is also an important factor in global markets. He said Saudi oil policy is based on maximizing revenues while at the same time maintaining global economic stability.
In a keynote address at a reception held at CCAS, Adel Al-Jubeir, First Secretary at the Embassy, spoke on the history of the First and Second Saudi States, and the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In all of his endeavors, King Abdul Aziz showed a sense of realism, pragmatism, and an understanding of his capabilities and limits. A pious man who held true to his values and heritage, Mr. Al-Jubeir explained, King Abdul Aziz left his successors with a legacy of pragmatism that has been upheld by the sons who have succeeded him as King. They continued with the process of modernization, development plans and institution building, and further implemented the concept of consultation with citizens and broadening their participation in the system. The result of these policies is a state that is very secure, prosperous and has a bright future ahead of it. He went on to say that Saudi Arabia looks on any problems as challenges that are going to be overcome.
The same streak of pragmatism that anchors the Saudi domestic order characterizes Saudi foreign policies, Mr. Al-Jubeir added. Saudi Arabia is a country that has no ambitions beyond its borders, and since it was never conquered, it does not suffer from a colonial complex. As a result, Saudi Arabia does not have any problem dealing with any country or culture, and has adapted useful ideas from other peoples without compromising its beliefs and heritage.
Other events associated with the symposium included a reception held at the U.S. House of Representatives hosted by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and Okaz newspaper. Also, the Library of Congress hosted a dinner marking the presentation to the library of unpublished papers of Arab-American author Ameen Rihani. The dinner was attended by Librarian of Congress James Billington and First Secretary Adel Al-Jubeir. Mai Rihani, the niece of the author, said Mr. Rihani, who visited Saudi Arabia in the 1920s and spent time with King Abdul Aziz, considered the Saudi ruler "a visionary and enlightened leader who would become an interlocutor with the U.S. on behalf of the Arabs and protect and promote the interests" of the two sides.