Since King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud ascended the Saudi throne in 2015, Riyadh’s actions and decisions with regard to domestic and regional policies have been ambiguous. In other words, the Kingdom has failed to experience a calm day over the past three years.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also taken controversial measures to introduce himself as the architect of a bright future for the Kingdom. Bin Salman has put into practice widespread social, cultural, economic and political reforms which could be studied from different angles.
Saudi Arabia’s political and cultural approach has altered since bin Salman was named the crown prince. His reforms drew strong criticism from Wahhabi clerics but they had to back down since the country’s king has the final say in key state matters.
Allowing women to drive, enter stadiums and travel abroad without their husbands’ consent are among freedoms that Saudi Arabia has granted to women which have been welcomed by the international community.
There are two basic problems with these reforms: First, they are not genuine reforms and many believe that these sweeping changes aim to serve as a cover-up for quashing dissent and restore the Kingdom’s image which has been tarnished due to the killing of Yemenis and supporting terrorism. Secondly, the reforms , though basically needed, should be based on more urgent fundamental reforms in many other areas which are missing.
Bin Salman has shown that he is an ambitious person who wants to change the conservative nature of the kingdom through reforms. Nonetheless, his reforms have been described as hasty and unrealistic which mismatch Saudi Arabia’s social contour.
It seems that political, social and economic conditions have not been laid out for these reforms.
Now, Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a major transition. Bin Salman will either manage to press ahead with his reforms or radicals will be able to block his move and oust him.
Ordinary people cannot play a key role in supporting or opposing the reforms. First of all, this is because there is not any coherent political party in Saudi Arabia. Secondly, there are not adequate social and cultural grounds in the country.
The ruling system can get each of the groups on board to suppress the other group to achieve its objectives.
Outcomes of Crown Prince’s reforms
-Bin Salman’s reforms are directly affected by Western countries, particularly the United States. This is because he has lived in the US for several years and this has impacted his views towards religious and social issues. Likewise, the US has exerted pressure on the crown prince to carry out reforms which indicates that his move is influenced by the West.
– Bin Salman’s reforms could create a crisis for Saudi Arabia. Reforms ordered by the ruling systems in the Middle East have been met with public resistance. These reforms have ultimately led to an uprising.
-Reforms in Saudi Arabia could lead to secularism and the promotion of Western values which are not welcome by the predominantly conservative Saudi society.
-Over the past months, Saudi people have voiced objection to the reforms. But bin Salman has continued his move through force.
-The reforms of the Saudi crown prince are also aimed at establishing close ties with Israel which undermine the interests of the Palestinian people.
To sum up, Saudi Arabia has intensified efforts to carry out economic, social and cultural reforms since bin Salman was appointed the crown prince which has created several challenges for the Saudi society. Undoubtedly, this will not only lead to political instability in Saudi Arabia but also result in domestic chaos.
By: Afsaneh Reshad
*Afsaneh Reshad has a Ph.D. in International Relations; she is a lecturer at Azad University.