Towards a fair perspective on Saudi Arabia

August 23, 2023

By Jamil Al-Dandany

Saudi Arabia has been in the news lately for the wrong reasons. This time it is the transfer of star footballers to the Saudi Pro League, as well as the merger of PGA and LIV golf. Most of the commentary about those two events reveals again that Saudi phobia is well entrenched, as it peddles the notion that the driver for those sporting developments lies in a sinister plot of “sport-washing.”

Reasonable people can disagree on the merit and effectiveness of both exercises: is this the way to create a sporting culture amongst a young population (who make up the majority of Saudis), to draw attention to the domestic football league with the hope of financial rewards and an enhanced quality of life in the country, or to generate global good will? Or is it necessary to take the long route other football leagues and golf tours have pursued to establish themselves on the global sporting stage?

Likewise, opening the country for international tourism is often dubbed as an attempt by the Saudi government to clean up its image. Again, rarely is the ability of Saudi Arabia to establish a tourism industry — in a country that neglected this promising sector for decades — discussed from a business or economic perspective. Furthermore, one hears little about the role of tourism in the larger scheme of transforming Saudi Arabia’s economy, or the fact that it is only one among several strategic initiatives under way in a complex and ambitious transformative socioeconomic experiment.

As for image building, governments the world over engage in this activity to position their countries favorably; indeed they have a duty to maximize their nations’ “soft power.”

Like every other country, Saudi Arabia has its share of issues to tackle — not to accommodate the outside world but to meet the expectations of its citizenry. By all accounts, issues related to women from the legal and employment viewpoints have seen significant progress, as have government accountability, economic diversification, the ease of doing business, and social transformation and cultural expression, to name but a few.

In light of these facts, it is high time to be fair and balanced when looking at the Kingdom.

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