Summary of “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last”

I started my career as a reporter in the Middle East in Beirut in 1979, and so much of the region that I have covered since was shaped by the three big events of that year: the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Saudi puritanical extremists – who denounced the Saudi ruling family as corrupt, impious sellouts to Western values; the Iranian Islamic revolution; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
M.B.S. instructed me: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam – we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins – and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and Saudi Arabia before 1979.” At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia.
One middle-age Saudi banker said to me: “My generation was held hostage by 1979. I know now that my kids will not be hostages.” Added a 28-year-old Saudi woman social entrepreneur: “Ten years ago when we talked about music in Riyadh it meant buying a CD – now it is about the concert next month and what ticket are you buying and which of your friends will go with you.”
The Saudi education minister chimed in that among a broad set of education reforms, he’s redoing and digitizing all textbooks, sending 1,700 Saudi teachers each year to world-class schools in places like Finland to upgrade their skills, announcing that for the first time Saudi girls will have physical education classes in public schools and this year adding an hour to the Saudi school day for kids to explore their passions in science and social issues, under a teacher’s supervision, with their own projects.
On foreign policy, M.B.S. would not discuss the strange goings on with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon coming to Saudi Arabia and announcing his resignation, seemingly under Saudi pressure, and now returning to Beirut and rescinding that resignation.
Iran’s “Supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,” said M.B.S. “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.” What matters most is what Saudi Arabia does at home to build its strength and economy.
Being a Saudi student in post-9/11 America, young Saudis confess, is to always feel you are being looked at as a potential terrorist or someone who comes from a country locked in the Stone Age.Now they have a young leader who is driving religious and economic reform, who talks the language of high tech, and whose biggest sin may be that he wants to go too fast.
Alas, who Saudi Arabia is also includes a large cohort of older, more rural, more traditional Saudis, and pulling them into the 21st century will be a challenge.

The orginal article.