Saudi Vision 2030: A quiet and pragmatic revolution
TRAGHIDA DERGHAM HE Vision 2030 plan announced by Saudi Arabia this week is nothing short of astonishing. It is a renaissance project built on pragmatic and scientific foundations, and a collective workshop aiming to substitute nationalization, rentier, and topdown models with a liberal economic and social approach, a philosophy of rewarding creativity and excellence, and a policy based on citizenship and participation.
The new Vision lays down the foundations for a historical leap that will no doubt shake up Saudi Arabia and the Arab region. It is the antithesis of the outcome so far of the Arab Spring, which had shaken things up without sustainable foundations. Yet the Vision is neither a revolution nor a coup, unlike what the Arab region has become accustomed to, in terms of change through ideology and cycles of anger and revenge. It is a calculated leap of development with an implementation mechanism, to the surprise of the Saudi citizen and the world.
Some have reacted to it with apprehension and resistance to change, and to the loss of privileges under the welfare state system. Others were recep- tive to the modernizing and enlightened bid for reform and development, and to being part of a national project, feeling as if awakened by a beautiful dream. The announcement of the Vision 2030 closed the curtain on the era of gradual change in Saudi Arabia, yet without losing respect for that chapter of Saudi history.
As soon as it was declared, the Vision was put into effect with immediate changes, inaugurating a new pact not based on blind compliance with the state, but on participation in effecting the future transformations, through creativity, innovation, and initiative- taking, and through embracing technology in medicine, education, agriculture, human capital, and employment.
What happened this week in Saudi Arabia is a recognition of the need for evolution, change, and keeping up with the technological revolution with a new and unprecedented philosophy in Saudi Arabia. This major event will also have extraordinary regional implications in the economic, social, and political spheres.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia is building a new regional political order with clear features, one that is bold, visionary, modernising, and liberal- leaning while also mindful of heritage and tradition. No doubt, this bid will be met with resistance by traditional conservatives and the beneficiaries of the entitlement culture, but the young people of the Gulf and the Aran region will ultimately heed the call of the future coming to them through the roadmap of creativity launched through the Vision 2030 initiative with awareness and dynamism.
The young people of the Gulf are more fortunate than their peers elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, not only because of the abundance of natural resources, but also because of the coolheaded governance revolutions taking place in the Gulf away from the ruckus of populist coups.
The UAE was the pioneer of visionary thinking and extraordinary initiatives. Its leaders have played a leading role that has galvanized young people and imparted on them a yearning for stability and happiness. These were no rhetorical slogans; happiness comes from reassurance about the suture, and from social and economic guarantees for their tomorrow. It comes from job opportunities and conscious plans for retirement, beyond healthcare and education.
Thus, the leaders of the UAE were the first to tweet to welcome the plan announces by Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, deputy crown prince, minister of defense, and head of the Economic and Development Council in charge of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative and plan.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE ruler of Dubai, who has been a pioneer of renewal, said the Vision was full of ambition and hope for the country and the region, and proclaimed that Saudi’s young leadership will surprise the world with its achievements. He also said the plan is reason for optimism and hope for cultural renewal for the Arab nation, toward better exploitation of its energies, resources, and young people.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said the vision was an “ambitious program by the king of decisiveness”. Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said the project is a “giant step not only for Saudi Arabia, but also for the region towards further progress and achievement.” “Integration with Saudi Arabia is our approach” he added, stressing that while some spread terror and chaos, “we, led by the wise Kingdom, our approach is building and happiness.”
However, the celebration of this injection of reassurance does not mean that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are in guaranteed prosperity in a bubble that isolates them from what is happening in neighboring countries, or the Arab region and the Middle East in general. In truth, part of the new and unusual policies of the Gulf nations is the move by Saudi Arabia to lead an Arab coalition in Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, the consistent political positions on the Syrian question, and the economic steps vis- à- vis Egypt, for example.
On the Yemeni issue, the Saudi leadership believes its intervention was a necessity, as part of a calculated pre- emptive policy to contain the Houthis in Yemen before they expand to Saudi Arabia, and to make it clear to Iran that violating Saudi borders is a red line. This thinking is similar to the American thinking in Iraq and the Russian thinking in Syria, namely, that it is necessary to right wars “there” rather than “here”, in Russia, US, or Saudi soil. AA.
[ Raghida Dergham is Columnist, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, and New York Bureau Chief for the Londonbased Al Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is dean of the international media at the United Nations. Dergham is Founder and Executive Chairman of Beirut Institute, an indigenous, independent, inter- generational think tank for the Arab region with a global reach. An authority on strategic international relations, Dergham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Honorary Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association. She served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum, and is a member of the Development Advisory Committee of the IAP- the Global Network of Science Academies. She can be reached on Twitter @ RaghidaDergham].