On Thursday, March 24, 2022, PAWAC members were able to join an exclusive chat with Saudia Arabian Embassy Spokesperson Fahad Nazar. Nazar wanted to make it clear that Saudi Arabia’s core values had always been held dear and are the root of their national faith: Islam. He emphasized that it is hard to know from the outside, but Non-Saudis, especially Americans do not understand how impactful the core values are and how they shape Saudi Arabia as a country.
He goes on to share that Saudi Arabia still considers itself the birthplace of Islam. Islam is an Abrahamic, monotheistic rooted religion with more than two billion followers, almost 25% of the world’s population. Its main teachings involve the Five Pillars of Islam: shahada, salat, zakat, sawm, and haji and it spread with Prophet Muhammad’s messages from God. Nazar goes on to acknowledge that the core values Saudi Arabia holds, the core essence of Islam, are likely universal in nature and are not Saudi Arabia’s alone to take pride in. The values Fahad Nazar spoke of included the essence of their faith in Islam as well as the Arab customs and traditions Saudi Arabia holds dear. The essence of Islam consists of compassion, peaceful coexistence, moderation, and consideration, all fundamental things that Saudi Arabia has attempted to implement.
The essence of Islam is an important message to Saudi Arabia that they would like to share with the rest of the world. However, up until 2015 women’s rights in Saudi Arabia were very minimal, with this being the year they were finally given the right to vote in elections and run as candidates. By 2018, the driving ban was eliminated. As of today, Nazar assured us that there are no “restrictions” on Saudi Women in Saudi Arabia. With that being said, Nazar spoke of the project being implemented by the kingdom: Vision 2030. Vision 2030 is a broad economic package of social-economic forms that defines what it truly means to be a Saudi. This is an attempt to reform Saudi Arabia and bring it back to its’ ruling through Islam and its essence. They are working on their values everywhere and every day. They are being more open and equal in Mosques as well as militarily and hatred responses for others are being held accountable. They are also not supporting any abroad circumstances or situations that deviate from their message of respect and equality. The status of women in Saudi Arabia is still surrounded by heaps of misconceptions and untrue rumors. Since the unveiling of Vision 2030, the last seven years have seen great leaps toward change. Initially removed all obstacles, allowing women to work anywhere, vote, and do everything. Former laws prohibiting things surrounding that have been removed and although great strides have been taken, they are not exactly where they should be yet Nazar admitted.
Because of their decisions above and the new act of following the “true essence of Islam” Nazar mentioned that outside and inside terrorist groups are attempting to attack the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is using every means at its disposal to counter anything that helps terrorist groups flourish. Saudi Arabia had also helped with the 2015 conflict in Yemen and was the biggest provider of aid to Yemen (billions of dollars in aid). They have also offered to mediate the current situation between Ukraine and Russia. Saudi Arabia has also taken responsibility for any mistake it has made in the past and will continue to do so. In response to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia acted early and seriously and was able to provide vaccines for all citizens even those who were not “technically citizens.” Another success of Saudi Arabia in international affairs is that it has the biggest reserves of crude oil but is still committed to working on reducing its carbon footprint and using more clean energy.
Another goal of Saudi Arabia currently is the creation of more global citizens. What Nazar meant by this is that they are revising school curriculums for the better, training teachers to raise better students, promoting respect for all human beings regardless of religious beliefs, and giving lots of studies abroad options to Saudi students. It was noted that the learning and growing are getting more involved and better as their technology progresses. At least 200,000 Saudi students are obtaining formal education by studying abroad and serving as unofficial ambassadors for the kingdom as this is being written- an amazing international advancement for Saudi Arabia. While they are sending students out, students are also getting the opportunity to learn in Saudi Arabia as well, and millions of guests also travel to the holy places in Saudi Arabia continuously. With all of these Islam followers worshiping in these small spaces, Saudi Arabia has made it a mission to provide and promote safety and other gracious hospitality for its visitors.
Fahad Nazar was able to give a great explanation for the social and economic advancements of Saudi Arabia and was eventually able to answer questions from audience members! To summarize some of the information added to these questions, Nazar said that Saudi Arabia has made it very clear to Ukraine and Russia that the only path forward should lead to a peaceful resolution of current conflicts; the kingdom has also offered to mediate this ordeal and has only used open and honest dialogue. For high school students and others interested in Saudi Arabia’s education systems, Nazar mentioned that there are at least 30 higher institutions and that scholarships are offered primarily to promising students in stem fields and of the graduating classes, about 55% have been non-Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia is actively seeking to attract foreign talents.
When asked about the opening opportunities for women, he reminded us that one of Saudi Arabia’s main goals is the empowerment of women. Every sector has been opened to women and it is making sure they are able to succeed in the workplace as well as at home. There are women in the armed service, and women are also diplomats and CEOs. There is a lot of work to be done but they are on the right track. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been attracting foreign investors and suitors. For example, in their tourism sector, there is actually a very experienced woman leading the projects, and they are looking for experienced workers, both men, and women, who see opportunities in the kingdom in the community.
While there are reforms against these changes, there is very MINIMAL support. The reasoning behind this is primarily because a majority of Saudi Arabia’s population is very young. Over 70% of them are under the age of 35. This has caused a generational shift in leadership and thought processes that can be seen at the governmental level as well as in the private sector. It is a reflection of the demographic of the kingdom currently. People are realizing that some of the changes are long overdue.
As for climate change situations, while Saudi Arabia maintains a comparative advantage with crude oil, this does not mean that they cannot produce solar energy and new fuels like green and blue hydrogen which are new fuels. Young people are really excited because this is another place where they see opportunity in the kingdom, and Nazar assured them that there are more opportunities for advancement approaching quickly.
He also wanted to mention that Saudi Arabia has not always been completely closed off to foreigners. There are many American-owned companies that work in Saudi Arabia as well as some that have headquarters there, and there is a big American Automotive market in this part of the middle east. They are currently working towards many partnerships between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia- including more foreign exchange programs with colleges- including Harvard and a lot of other offers. In Saudi Arabia, he said, the United States is basically still the goal standard because “Americans do great work, and Americans have a great work ethic” and yes- to finish up our chats about Saudi Arabia, he did reveal that Saudi Arabia has its own national airline titled Saudia Arabian airlines.
All in all this conversation on changes coming to Saudi Arabia was really interesting and eye-opening. As a woman and as a business major at Bradley University, hearing how far women’s rights have built up in Saudi Arabia as well as their new and evolving opportunities for foreign talent, definitely made Saudi Arabia seem less mysterious and more of an opportunity hotline! Fahad Nazar held a great conversation with us at PAWAC, and he was able to solidify how Saudi Arabia’s roots have always lied within the essence of their main faith, Islam but needed a bit of maneuvering back from where they had strayed.