Saudi Vi­sion 2030: A quiet and prag­matic revo­lu­tion

Pakistan Observer - - IN­TER­NA­TIONAL -

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].

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