By Arab News
By Nathalie Goulet*
Even a blind man would be able to see the revolution that is being accomplished in so little time in Saudi Arabia today. And this was boosted by the announcement late last month of an agreement between the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, and the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican and French Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Jean-Louis Tauran, to accomplish mutual goals.
A multicultural society is already a fact in the UAE and Bahrain, which has a very old Jewish community. It is now the turn of Saudi Arabia to open its borders to new challenges, including religious diversity. More than cinemas or entertainment plans, this sends a strong message to the world.
I talked about inviting the Pope to Saudi Arabia during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Paris in 2016. We might not be too far from that now.
The announcement with the Vatican affects the deepest exclusivity of religious traditionalism: That of Arabia and its king, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The taboo is now broken and only cynics could see it as a political maneuver.
Early signs had already foreseen this change, which nobody could have imagined would happen so quickly. The visit of Al-Issa to the Grand Synagogue of Paris last November was ignored as anecdotal, while MBS’s visit to the leaders of the Jewish community in New York was seen as a simple communication strategy, and only a few commented on the Pope’s most senior adviser’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
Today, and for more than two years, the signs of Saudi Arabia’s opening up to the world in its cultural and religious diversity have become stronger and increasingly compelling. Crown Prince Mohammed announced that he planned to do it and he is staying true to his word. It is always a surprise to see a politician do what he promised — it will take a while but we will get used to it.
This openness to religious diversity is a giant leap toward modernity and will do much to silence the dissenting voices. We must realize that such a policy may provoke some resistance and discomfort among Saudi society. There is no example in world history of such big changes happening easily, but these changes are not done against Saudi society or against the clerics. It may take time to explain this new policy, but where there is a will there is a way.
No doubt Vision 2030 will bring a lot more changes to Saudi society without hurting its most traditional part. Saudi Arabia is proud and is right to be proud of its Muslims roots and traditions, but Vision 2030 is about success with an alliance of tradition and modernity.
I have always said and written that we must support reforms and the Saudi Vision 2030. It is likely that we are at the beginning of a real Saudi cultural revolution, and more than ever we need to support all efforts made.
The agreement signed with the Vatican is not an open door to build churches, but it is the first step to a multi-faith society.
Saudi Arabia has shown a strong sign of tolerance to the world. We are all going to closely watch the Kingdom’s next steps as it opens up, but today it’s time to welcome this historic decision.
• Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy).