Kingdom of Justice, equality and education!

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“WHAT is all the fuss about corruption and education? Why suddenly the obsession with age-old problems? Is it a way to distract from real issues facing the country, such as the war in Yemen and the economic challenges at home?

Questions like these are nagging not only in the foreign media, but Saudis, like Shagran Al-Rashedi of Sabaq News, are asking. “How does corruption, in its various forms, undermine social justice, leading to unjust distribution of wealth and to instability?” he asks.

My take on the issue is: Corruption eats up the bases of any constitution, from family, tribe, society, up to state and world organizations. It may begin from the top or bottom of the structure, and eventually brings down the entire system.

In time, corruption becomes an accepted culture and a way of life. It doesn’t matter if one is religious, educated, mature or rich — everyone wants more. Some would even lecture the rest of us about how we should fight corruption, while they are the dirty ones we should fight!

Corruption by its nature is exclusionary. It excludes the weak, poor, principled and disciplined. Since there are limited opportunities, one must be strong enough, fast enough and supported enough to take more than the rest. That is how we have more rich and poor, and less well to do; an increasing upper and underprivileged classes, and a decreasing middle class.

Since justice is the pillar of the state and the base of law and order, such discrepancy threatens our very stability, solidarity and cohesion.

In order for economic and social reform programs to succeed and achieve their objectives, we need a suitable environment of justice and quality, education and awareness. Many ambitious reform projects have failed in the Third World because of ignorance. Thus, food aid, malaria and AIDS medications, even schoolbooks are sold in the black market to feed corruption. Strong resistance and doubts facing programs of reform come as a result of ignorance.

As for developing and reforming societies, the first step starts at home, at school, at mosque, at library and museum, in street and playgrounds by families, teachers, religious scholars and civic society organizations. In short, the whole project begins in and by society itself. The state’s role is to provide the educational infrastructure, and to encourage, guide and support the civic movement.

When Malaysia began its historic development project in the 1980s, it was a poor country that exported domestic workers and farmers as well as palm oil and agricultural products. In neighboring Singapore, the situation was even more severe. The land is barren, drinking water is imported from Malaysia, and most life necessities used to come from abroad. Further east, South Korea, had emerged broken from the World War II and a devastating Japanese occupation.

In these three countries, great leaders focused on education, purifying the environment of ignorance, intolerance and corruption. In a few decades, their economies have risen to the ranks of developed nations. Malaysian legendary Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad, summarized his strategy in three words: Education, education and education. He explains that only educated people would develop and raise their nations. The ignorant would spoil every achievement made by their government because they weren’t a part of and ready for it.

On similar philosophy, Saudi Arabia has built its civic project. The founder, King Abdulaziz, was keen on teaching his people. He built schools and institutes and launched the first scholarship program for higher education in 1930s. Graduates returned from Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Britain, America and Italy to lead the ambitious transformation project in all fields.

King Saud had established the first university in Riyadh, soon followed by other universities all over the Kingdom. And King Faisal had initiated girls’ education and provided free schooling to all, including villagers, Bedouins and settlers in remote areas.

The historical process continued its march during the reigns of Saudi kings: Khaled, Fahd, Abdullah and Salman. Today, it emphasizes cooperation with world top institutions in academic and scientific research, as evidenced by the agreements signed by the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman during his recent visits to Europe and the United States.

However, a strong momentum at the top of the pyramid is not enough. The role of religious, cultural, social and educational leaders is equally important. We need to clean up the environment of corruption and nepotism, restore the principles of justice and equality, and instill the values of education and hard work.

Only then, we may lead our nation to cleaner, productive and smarter world. A brighter future is waiting ... what are waiting for?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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