It sounds trite or predictable. But Saudi Arabia has been in many ways completely different from both my expectations of the country and my study about the country.
Saudi Arabia is a young state. It has existed for less than 100 years. In that time, it has grown from a sparsely populated desert to a developed nation. The people I have met are not living third-world lives. They are educated, employed, stressed, funny, stylish, awkward, friendly, generous, interesting, modern, traditional people, just like everyone I have ever met in the United States.
Saudi Arabia’s national goal, reiterated by students, educators, bureaucrats, bus drivers, ghawjis, advisors, and citizens, at universities, ministries, hotels, houses, and museums, is pragmatic: establishing Saudi Arabia in the international world through education and economy. I have not met a Saudi who does not either have a college degree or is working on one. And I think I have met more PhDs here than at my university.
Tradition is a constant presence: culture and, sometimes, religion, permeate the simplest of situations. But this in no way limits the young nation from dramatic—and apparently attainable—goals. The students, the schools, and the absolutely massive construction projects that have emerged recently, are all evidence of this.
Like any country, Saudi Arabia of course has problems, perhaps in some ways more than others. But the situation is malleable and change is obvious. As is maintenance if tradition. More and more, it seems the two are working together for Saudi Arabia.
1/6/12 3:42 PM