Saudi Vision 2030: Propaganda or truth?
It is normal for the vision’s advertising campaigns to be met with opposing ones
Some of those commenting on the extensive media coverage of Saudi Vision 2030, and of the promises and activities pertaining to it, describe it as the biggest promotional propaganda in the region’s history.
It is normal for the vision’s advertising campaigns to be met with opposing ones. It is also normal to doubt all developmental plans in the region, which has failed to produce a new Singapore or Malaysia, except for the Emirati experience and to a lesser extent the Jordanian one. However, the Saudi project is ambitious and massive, and cannot be compared to either of the latter.
It confronts challenges that are clear to everyone, and it is no surprise that people are divided between frustration and doubt on one hand, and enthusiasm and optimism on the other. The ideas are great and necessary. Like many others, I am worried about the many huge difficulties in execution, but Saudi Arabia has the ability and resources.
All that was said by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is the project’s engineer, is reasonable, logical, and can be executed once the management and determination are made available. What he spoke about has instilled hope and raised enthusiasm. Someone who works in public relations would not advise a politician to submit a project to his citizens in which there are promises and deadlines for the sake of propaganda.
The vision includes thorough details and commitments. It begins this year, and there are promises to achieve some of its plans as of next year. It stipulates that four years later the government must execute many plans, such as those related to serving 15 million pilgrims per year. Ten years later, for example, it will serve 30 million pilgrims per year.
These promises can be achieved once new laws that facilitate investment and work are approved. There are dozens of other commitments that are clearly listed in the document, and they can all be discussed. In the end, the lesson is in the results, not the promises. In any case, the region’s countries - including Saudi Arabia - do not have many options.
They must correct their situation and their legislative and executive concepts, review their way of work, and look for means of development to achieve more than the minimum for their citizens. Today’s citizens know a lot more than the past’s, as they travel more and thus compare their countries to others, ask questions accordingly and make demands, even if they do not have the chance to elect their government or hold it accountable.
Without a developmental project such as Saudi Vision 2030, which wants to reduce dependence on oil, the government will not be able to meet its citizens’ simplest expectationsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
There is no longer a place for totalitarian regimes or pastoral states. A government that is not elected must enjoy its citizens’ support by providing services that satisfy them. The legitimacy of our region’s governments is mainly based on what they provide to their citizens.
What we heard from Prince Mohammad bin Salman is a project of ambition, philosophy, ideas and promises that represents his vision of a new Saudi Arabia based on a real economy whose pillars are solid and viable, and which does not merely depend on oil. The shock of the recent drop in oil prices has awakened us more than before. Today we are alone without major international allies, and have found ourselves in a region full of war.
The difference between this and previous phases of decreased oil prices is that they may not bounce back. The number of competing producers has increased, and the cost of shale oil has decreased. Electric cars have begun to spread. Even if oil prices reach the same heights of the good old days, the number of Saudis is increasing quickly - so are their demands, and it is impossible to meet them only through oil revenues.
According to the United Nations, the Saudi population is 24 million, and will reach 40 million by the end of the plan in 2030. Without a developmental project such as Saudi Vision 2030, which wants to reduce dependence on oil, the government will not be able to meet its citizens’ simplest expectations.
I will repeat what the visionary himself said. Why think only of simple expectations such as jobs, schools and healthcare? Why should we not aspire for more, to elevate our status as a developed country? It is possible, and it is our choice to progress. Success in Saudi Arabia will help other Arab countries move forward.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 27, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed