As the world watched the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference unfold in Riyadh on Tuesday and the investment opportunities it offered, political observers in both Saudi Arabia and the international community knew that they were witnessing the commencement of a new Saudi era led by an impressive young prince.
Reverting to Moderation
During the course of a panel discussion at the conference, trhe Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud declared quite categorically that “We will return to what we used to be, a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas, we will destroy them today”.
The other big announcement at the FII was the $500 billion plan for the Neom city: a mega project based in the northern part of the Kingdom that aims to foster innovation, trade and creativity. Due to its geographical location, the project will span three countries, stretching its borders into neighboring Jordan and Egypt.
Shortly after the above statement made by the Crown Prince, The Independent newspaper observed: “The claims from Prince bin Salman will be met with skepticism internationally, as Saudi's hardline clerics still wield much power and influence in the country.”
This proposition does not seem sound in view of the latest developments that have taken place in Saudi Arabia. For instance, King Salman and US President Trump opened a counter-terrorism center in Riyadh, during the latter’s visit to the Saudi capital in May this year. The initiative was welcomed by Saudi society. Again on September 26, the Kingdom announced that women could obtain driving licenses from November of this year, a move which was welcomed and applauded by all sections of the Saudi society.
In the same vein, the Kingdom last year took away from the religious police its power to arrest people. Similarly, it arrested several preachers last year for stoking sectarianism and the government clearly stated that it shall no longer tolerate the presence of extremist ideologies in society. These are just a handful of the several constructive changes that Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have brought about in recent times and have been accepted by their societies.
Embracing the future
I come from a sister country of Saudi Arabia that in a span of 45 years has managed to replace concepts of ‘Otherness’ with ‘Oneness’ and has built a cosmopolitan culture that is open, tolerant and accepting. Until last week, The United Arab Emirates was the only country in the world to have Ministers of Happiness, Tolerance and Youth. In addition to these initiatives taken last year, the UAE is now among the first countries to have a ‘State Minister for Artificial Intelligence’ and another for food security.
A major part of my upbringing is based on the strong belief in setting visions. We develop a vision and we move forward to achieve it. Perhaps, this outlook is inherent in the culture of this region. Our nomadic ancestors used to first spot a star and follow it in their search for the next destination of prosperity. Nowadays, visions are our new stars and we will continue to follow them in pursuit of our future. Perhaps, it is best to conclude here with the words of John F. Kennedy: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”