On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of launching the Saudi “vision 2030,” the official Saudi television ran an interesting interview with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also occupies the positions of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister. The Saudi 2030 vision aims to transform the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a modern state that is economically and culturally open to the world. This transformation should happen without affecting the cultural and religious identity that distinguishes Saudi Arabia. Will the young and ambitious Prince Mohammed bin Salman succeed in achieving this vision in the face of the many obstacles thrown in his way, especially from the west?
In the interview, Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed threats against the Saudi national security and the need to neutralize them, especially the threat posed by the Houthi militia and their backer Iran. The prince confirmed that his hands are always extended with peace for those who want peace, including Iran. At the same time, his country will continue to develop the military system and strengthen the army, which has already become among the five most powerful militaries in the Middle East region. According to Global Firepower ranking for 2021, Saudi Arabia comes in the fourth place after the strongest and oldest armies in the region: the Turkish, the Egyptian and the Iranian militaries.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman also discussed the most critical issue of developing the economy. For this to happen successfully, it should be accompanied by opening the Saudi society and changing the way the government and the political leadership system in the country works. That is not an easy mission. One of the most important features of the economic development that Saudi Arabia seeks to achieve by 2030, according to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is openness to foreign investments and the development of tourist areas with a pure Saudi identity capable of attracting tourists from all over the world. This shall create more jobs that will help decrease unemployment. The prince confirmed that there is an urgent need to end the dependence of the Saudi economy on oil as the only source of income.
The tendency to end dependence on oil and petroleum resources as the only source of income has become a common goal for most Arab Gulf states. This is causing a brotherly competition among them to attract foreign investments, which is a good thing that may redefine the future of the Middle East region. Depending on the oil wealth has closed Arab Gulf countries on themselves for centuries. The newly adopted approach to open the economy for foreign investors will also open Gulf societies to be affected by other cultures and get modernized in the process.
Since Prince Mohammed bin Salman took office, in 2017, he has been aware that his many ambitions for modernizing Saudi Arabia should be preceded by smashing a few idols that has tied Saudi Arabia down for a long time. The most challenging idols are eliminating extremism and empowering women to play an influential role in public life.
In November, the Crown Prince said in a speech that “Saudi women in the past could not travel without a permit, could not attend sports shows and cultural events, could not drive a car, could not do a lot of work, and could not appear for their legal cases at court without a male guardian. Women suffered from that for decades. But today Saudi women are experiencing an unprecedented phase of empowerment. We have worked to empower Saudi women in the field of work and personal status, and today they are effectively a partner for the Saudi man in the development of our entire homeland without discrimination. I do not only address the issue of women driving cars, but also driving the development process, in the broadest sense. For example, the rate of women's participation in the labor market doubled from 17% to 31%.”
On another note, the Crown Prince spoke about the phenomenon of extremism among Saudis and described it as “rampant.” He said: “We reached a stage in which we aim, in the best case, to coexist with this scourge, and eliminating extremism was not an option, nor was it possible to control it. In 2017, I promised to eliminate extremism immediately, and we have actually started a serious campaign to address the causes and address the phenomena. Within one year, we were able to eliminate an ideological project made over 40 years, and today extremism is no longer acceptable in the Kingdom, and it no longer appears on the surface.”
Anyone in the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's shoes would have preferred to continue on what he found, without trying to change it. But, very bravely he decided to take the challenge of smashing the idols of extremism and freeing Saudi Arabia from this heavy burden that tied Saudi down for centuries. Saudi Crown Prince efforts will not only benefit Saudi Arabia, but also the entire Middle East and the world. In that sense, the international community, especially the United States, should encourage and help him to accomplish this very difficult mission.
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