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The National Interest: Why Saudi 2030 is not Iran 1963

Saudi Arabia has been on a hard sell, political consultant James Nadeau wrote in the online publication “The National Interest”,

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Saudi Arabia has been on a hard sell, political consultant James Nadeau wrote in the online publication “The National Interest”, drawing some to compare the kingdom’s current drive for change to the drive for change in pre-Islamic revolutionary Iran.

With the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting world powers at the likes of the United Nations General Assembly, the world is watching as the kingdom vows to modernize, Nadeau added, in a bid to drive up business as it works to move its economy from oil reliance – making dramatic cuts in its spending.

Nadeau explained: “Intriguingly, some experts on the region have even pointed out similarities with the now-infamous modernization drive undertaken by Iran in the 1960s. Called the “White Revolution,” Iran’s then-Shah (King) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi embarked on an American-backed program of reform that ultimately cost him his throne.”

Drawing on the comparison, he said that modern-day Saudi - like Iran in the Pahlavi era had close ties to the US. And he added that Tehran and Riyadh were used as part of Nixon’s strategy to keep the Soviets out of the Middle East at the time.

He explained: “The Iranian ruler, for his part, used his country’s position on the front lines of the Cold War and the lever of oil prices to extract generous terms from his American partners. The Saudi parallel is quite evident here.

“Despite growing criticism, the Kingdom today remains by far the most important military partner for both the United States and the United Kingdom in the Persian Gulf.”

But he said that the similarities stopped there, pointing to Iran’s “White Revolution” as being a “direct product of the Shah’s entangled relationship with the United States”.

Efforts to drive more power for women in Iran and the introduction of Western ideologies, Nadeau argued, ultimately led to the conservatives rise 15 years later, propelling the Ayatollah Khomeini to power.

Meanwhile modern day Saudi’s reform plan is not the result of external pressures from the US or the UK, Nadeau added, “but instead comes from a sober internal appraisal of the Kingdom’s place in a post-oil twenty-first century”.

He explained: “Record low prices for crude make the Vision 2030 platform a mix of economic pragmatism and a pressing need to tap the energy of a young population. By cutting fuel and other subsidies which Saudis have grown accustomed to as their share of the nation’s oil wealth, the monarchy is admitting to its subjects that the days of cushy government jobs and lavish state benefits are over.”

“If Riyadh’s ties with the United States and the UK are dominated by military issues and oil exports,” he continued to explain. “Mohammed bin Salman is putting on a full-court press to get these longtime partners to see Saudi as a business hub as well.”

And he said Mohammed Bin Salman’s travels to the US earlier this year and the numerous other international trips, including the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s use of Brexit to press the issue of a free trade deal with the British government “all speak to that long-term plan”.

Nadeau said: “The Iranian experience goes to show how difficult it can be to overcome resistance from a powerful religious base. Even so, new restrictions on the power of the religious police and an insistence on greater female employment point to a certain receptiveness for eventual social openings.”

And he concluded that “Ultimately, changing Saudi Arabia’s economic model is the only way to make sure the country can survive the new global energy climate."