Saudi 2030 Plan; Fantasy or Reality?

The Saudi government has approved on Monday a plan, dubbed Saudi Vision 2030, presented by the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, listing the Kingdom’s economic and development goals for the next 15 years.

The young prince has elaborated on the Saudi Vision 2030 in a one-of-its-kind interview with the Saudi-run Al Arabiya news network. The discussion contained a futuristic vision of Saudi Arabia on strategic cases including setting the economy free from dependence on oil by 2020, launching a public investment fund worth $2 billion, selling less than 5 percent of Aramco, world’s largest oil company, through a public offer, founding local military industries and raising the number of Haj pilgrims from the current 8 million to 15 million in 2020 and 30 million in 2030. Bin Salman also added that the kingdom would open the tourism gates to all countries “in compliance with the Saudi values and beliefs.”

Prince Mohammad bin Salman succeeded in winning an approval of Saudi public through his glossy plans in the most ambitious and most inclusive futuristic vision in the history of Saudi Arabia, especially that he broke into such cases as corruption, unemployment and the housing, and so put his hand on the challenges the Saudi community facing by coming clean on many issues for example on the defense ministry and its huge budget, the rising water prices in the country and many more.

Though bin Salman’s interview on Al Arabia was interesting because it was his first-ever interview with the news network, the question that presents itself is that would Saudi Arabia be capable of implementing the vision in practice? Or would the economic vision find the same fate as that of the previously presented military vision?

The deputy crown prince struggled to see and show the glass half full, turning a blind eye to the other side of the story concerning the kingdom’s judicature, corruption of the children of the ruling family and also ignoring the reaction of the Wahhabist groups especially that some of them believe that the vision violates the “Wahhabi red lines”. They also think that the vision shows a green light to an American demand to set free from the grasp of Wahhabi ideologies the country’s education system and the educational programs which bin Salman vowed to develop. Also, “we would keep unlocking the potentials of and provide the women, who are a significant element of our power, with good opportunities to build our economy, community and future,” continued bin Salman.

Some found in Mohammad bin Salman’s reference to the Western education system and the role of women a step by the deputy crown prince to show his good faith towards the West, though he did not study in a Western country. The American media reports mock him as the Bedouin Arab with open shoe, however, just unlike the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef who is supported by the US. Could these moves take him up to the throne?

The congratulations from inside and outside of the kingdom keep flowing towards the current practical ruler of Saudi Arabia by the ministers, princes and the Arab kings as for example King Abdullah II of Jordan has posted on twitter that he “found in Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s interview a bright vision and a courage and it would have the largest share in development and growth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” At the same time, the Moroccan King Mohammed VI phoned the Saudi deputy crown prince to congratulate him on approval of the Saudi Vision 2030 by the Council of Ministers. Are the kings congratulating the new Saudi king? All these actions signal an attempt to drive the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef out of the power map of the kingdom.

Prince bin Salman went big on his ambitions in the economic plan in terms of selling parts of Aramco, the largest oil company of the kingdom, the value of which exceeds $2trillion. Only selling 1 percent of Aramco’s IPO would be the largest initial public offering in the history of the earth, according to bin Salman. He also talked about the investment fund that would take a share of 10 percent of the global investment market. All these information call to mind his objectives of anti-Yemeni military operation Decisive Storm which has failed to realize the aimed goals after a year and two months. Bin Salman also talked, in his famous press conference, of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance which he claimed included 34 countries only to turn out later that many of the named countries in the military alliance like the surprised Pakistan and Indonesia did not know that they were members of bin Salman’s military entity, or they knew about it via TV news. Some others like Turkey and Malaysia said that they would not take part in the military coalition and only stopped at talking about the need for taking anti-terror measures.

Are we going to see the same fate of the Islamic Military Alliance and Decisive Storm operation happening to the Saudi Vision 2030? Is the youth spirit of Mohammad bin Salman behind this ambitious step which is by many understood as a little realistic and so much dreamy.

Despite the transparency that bin Salman showed concerning the hiking water prices, the economic figures that he exposed show some youth ambitions with little consideration of the kingdom’s economic realities. The Vision faces some questions because just days before its announcement the deputy crown prince had said that the kingdom could go bankrupt by 2017. Did Prince Mohammad try to raise the level of challenges to prove his economic theory? Or the numbers offered to the Turk Aldakhil, the host of interview, have been totally unrealistic or at least exaggerated? Why didn’t the deputy crown prince- or perhaps the crown prince soon- talk about the kingdom’s foreign currency reserves erosion or the country’s austerity measures? Why he only opened the case of Aramco oil company which many economic experts inside Saudi Arabia have questioned the real intentions behind its privatizations. What if the 2007 to 2009 economic crisis comes back?

The Saudi Vision 2030 for now remains an ink on the papers until the propaganda launched by Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which includes also Al Arabiya news channel and Prince Mohammad bin Salman holds a large part of its shares, winds down and the reality of the economic conditions of the kingdom appears more obviously. The Vision needs a larger evaluation by the Saudi, Arab and global economists to see if bin Salam could prove he is successful economically after he proved unsuccessful militarily. Would the economic vision remove bin Nayef as a crown prince as earlier the military vision Decisive Storm led to removal of his predecessor Muqrin bin Abdulaziz? All these questions would find their detailed answers soon.


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