During the 32nd Arab League Summit, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a significant statement emphasizing the commitment to peace: “We assure friendly countries in the East and the West that we are moving forward in peace. We will not allow our region to turn into a zone of conflict.”
This declaration did not emerge unexpectedly but rather stemmed from a profound understanding of the significance of peace in fostering fruitful collaboration and progress. The region’s painful experiences with past conflicts have resulted in missed opportunities for development and innovation, depriving the nation of valuable advancements that could have propelled it forward.
Due to these conflicts, many countries in the region, including the Kingdom, missed many opportunities, which also encompasses the Kingdom’s interest in space, which dates back to 1977. Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab Muslim astronaut, but because of the conflicts that the region witnessed during the 80s, space research was not given much attention, and this is what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has realized. He has stressed the need for direct investment in scientific research as part of Vision 2030.
The Vision 2030 plan aims to enhance the knowledge and technical expertise of Saudi individuals. This endeavor will not only contribute to a stronger economy and the growth of industries, but it will also involve investing in the region’s youth. This strategic approach embodies an ideal method to cultivate a new mindset based on scientific advancement and technological innovation, effectively countering radical ideologies and extremism. Consequently, it will foster stronger bonds among the people of the region, encouraging discussions grounded in science and rationality, irrespective of religious, racial or historical differences.
Furthermore, the transformation will be facilitated through the concept of science diplomacy, ensuring that science remains independent of political influences.
The significance of this has been exemplified by the Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Alqarni, as they successfully ended their eight days of scientific research aboard the International Space Station. This Saudi space mission, widely recognized by observers, not only contributes to the advancement of scientific knowledge but also serves to inspire the younger generation’s aspirations in science and technology. Additionally, it promotes women’s empowerment in scientific fields and strengthens the foundations of science diplomacy, garnering increased support for scientific endeavors.
During their stay, the astronauts had a scheduled plan to carry out 14 experiments. Out of these, 11 were focused on microgravity and explored its effects on the brain and eyes. Moreover, three experiments have been designed to promote educational awareness, involving the participation of 12,000 students from various regions of the Kingdom. The successful completion of this mission is expected to ignite a wave of enthusiasm among male and female students to pursue academic disciplines such as astronomy and space sciences, aerospace engineering, astrophysics, general relativity physics, cosmology and other scientific majors.
During this remarkable space campaign, the global community bore witness to the incredible empowerment of Saudi women in the realms of education and professional advancement. Leading this transformative charge is Barnawi, a trailblazing Saudi woman who has achieved the extraordinary feat of reaching orbit. Her remarkable journey began with a Bachelor of Arts degree in biomedical sciences from the prestigious University of Otago in New Zealand. Building upon her strong foundation, she furthered her academic pursuits at Alfaisal University, where she obtained a master’s degree in biomedical sciences. Barnawi’s wealth of knowledge proved immensely beneficial in conducting groundbreaking experiments, particularly those exploring the impact of microgravity on the brain and eyes.
The Saudi space mission has also the potential to enhance science diplomacy, thereby fostering greater support for scientific endeavors. Science diplomacy encompasses the realms of research, education and practical application, aiming to deepen our understanding of the interconnections between science, technology and international affairs.
Its overarching objective is to address both national and global challenges. Science diplomacy can be categorized into two distinct forms: diplomacy for science, which promotes international scientific collaboration, and science for diplomacy, wherein scientific cooperation contributes to the improvement of international relations. This diplomatic approach offers a significant advantage by transcending political obstacles, as well as cultural and religious differences, making it a vital bridge between nations.
The significance of diplomacy in the realm of science is clearly evident in this scenario, where three Arab astronauts came together in space for the very first time. Emirati astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi warmly welcomed Saudi astronauts Barnawi and Alqarni aboard the ISS. Adding to this remarkable display of unity, American commander Peggy Whitson and pilot John Shoffner joined forces with Barnawi and Alqarni. This serves as a striking testament to the power of collaboration and cooperation transcending borders and nationalities.
The evident collaboration between Saudi Arabia and the US on this mission becomes apparent through the extensive preparation undergone by the two Saudi astronauts over a period of nine months prior to their launch. Science for diplomacy can be effectively accomplished through enhanced scientific collaborations, thereby fostering significant advancements in international relations.
The space mission undertaken by Saudi Arabia marks a momentous achievement in the nation’s quest for scientific progress, women’s empowerment, and the promotion of science diplomacy. Aligned with the Vision 2030 plan, which prioritizes investment in scientific research and technological expertise, this endeavor aims to reshape the country’s mindset, foster innovation, and counter radical ideologies.
In light of this, fostering peace and cooperation becomes indispensable to prevent conflicts and drive sustainable development.
- Dr. Najat AlSaied is a Saudi researcher specializing in political media and communication. Her book “Twitter Diplomacy and Media Polarization” has been classified as a bestseller in the US. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.