As we’ve seen in Part I, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the changing face of the kingdom’s leadership, and has put to useful use many of his leadership traits to tackle the huge task of transforming Saudi.
In Part II we look at both the courage, charisma and drive behind taking the Kingdom into a future more aligned with youthful aspirations.
Thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed, Vision 2030 has seen important signs of life with actual reforms beginning to take place, as part of reducing a big state budget deficit, averaging $50bn-$60bn in the last couple of years.
There is gradual reduction of subsidies on fuel, water and electricity, in addition to the introduction of a 5% value-added-tax (VAT) in January 2018, a 50-100% excise tax on non-essentials in September 2017.
The plan includes private investment and privatizations and building the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund (the Public Investment Fund, PIF).
The aim is to create jobs and raise the participation of women in the workforce from 22% now to 30% by 2030.
Saudi’s Crown has also gone against conservative ideology in the kingdom which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas.
In a monumental decision last September, crown prince Mohammed announced on the same day the removal of the ban on VoIP, and on women driving, although the country has given itself till June to allow women to take the wheel on Saudi streets.
However, this year saw decrees that gave women the right to attend sports matches in stadiums and the country removed a 30 year old ban on movies, all moves representing important social and cultural changes, that are as well aimed at empowering a younger generation seemingly more in tune with the young prince.
Reuters reiterated that the crown prince has also said the country will move to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam, and reforms have begun in areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy such as education, courts and the law.
According to the Guardian, “religious police, the bane of many Saudi women’s lives, have been steadily stripped of their roles over the past year, losing powers to arrest and to define what is right or wrong…a decree was signed to absorb them into the interior ministry.”
In September 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed announced a $500-billion plan to create a business and industrial zone extending across its borders into Jordan and Egypt, called NEOM. The city spreads over a 26,500 sqkm, and will focus on industries including energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment, and will power itself solely with wind power and solar energy.
According to Bloomberg, Japanese SoftBank’ Vision Fund aims to deploy up to $15bn in NEOM and also plans investments of as much as $10bn in the PIF.
Last summer, Saudi announced aims to turn 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourism destinations.
The massive touristic stop will cover 34,000 sqkm between the cities of Amlaj and al-Wajh, in the northeastern region of the Kingdom.
Accompanying the huge touristic project are investments ensuring the upgrading and expansion of the region’s local airport, as well as the construction of luxury housing and hotels. Construction begins in the third quarter of 2019, with the first phase to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2022.
The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs.
In March 2018, the Crown Prince began an international trip that landed him first in Egypt and later a meeting with UK’s leadership and concludes with an extended stay in the US.
This month-long journey has a strong business segment attached to it but also carries a diplomatic effort at strengthening belief in the kingdom as a safe place to do business with and a safe haven for investments.
Full speed ahead
The boldness and pace of the reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed has led sends a strong signal to the region and international community that the kingdom has taken the bull by the horn when it comes to attracting business and investments.
With oil prices rising towards $70, Saudi will be in a good position to reduce its debt gap of $56bn for 2018 and transfer more funds towards projects with strong social and economic ROI.
Recently, focus has shifted towards reforming the military and the kingdom has opened the door for Saudi females to be recruited as soldiers and join the army.
With the Crown Prince virtually at the helm of Saudi Vision 2030, the changes in the kingdom will always be fluid and unpredictable, but certainly paint a picture of a future king who will ensure his strong place in history as a leader of men.