Change in Saudi Arabia: It's happening and at an amazing pace

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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More than two and a half years ago, I was among the listeners in the ministerial meetings’ room. It was the first time I heard the ideas of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who clearly spoke about a new project.

We heard him talk about a different state project, which includes the kingdom’s revenues, activities, openness, production and global status. It was something that resembled a myth!

It was a very interesting proposal, a future vision for a great country and that begins now. It was not just some other five-year developmental plan. Afterwards, the crown prince began a discussion on the matter and I was the last to comment. I was a visitor.

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I told him: “Your highness, I have no doubt that what you proposed (which later became Vision 2030) resembles a dream but at the same time, it’s realistic and achievable. However, there is one huge problem. Your highness, you are energetic and you have a clear vision and what I’ve heard (from you) in details is amazing and very convincing. However, it’s like you are driving an old car with worn out tires and machinery. Frankly speaking, with such a car, you will not arrive on time and to the place you desire. This is an old administrative government that’s more than 50 years old. It’s eroded.”

He smiled and said: “The car must work and if it doesn’t, I’ll replace the car with another.”

It is not possible to reform the government and achieve the very ambitious vision with the spread of bribes. Corruption causes many problems, whether political, social and economic

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Dismantled and reformed

Over the course of interesting and consecutive weeks, we saw how the government (the car) was dismantled and reformed. It went from being semi-broke to working at a high speed. Its work thus became based on a philosophy with a new comprehensive work mechanism.

We witnessed historic legislations, massive projects, changes on all levels, whether in terms of commanders and institutions, and foreign relations became based on a very focused strategy.

What happened ever since is much more than the country witnessed in the past six decades. The future measures planned will elevate the state’s status. Some thought Saudi Arabia awaited burial as it was targeted by the big Iran and small Qatar.

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Its economy was shrinking with the collapse of oil prices. Bureaucracy was increasing and the state’s commitments towards its citizens and others were impossible. Production was bad due to bureaucratic institutions.

Traditions obstructed the society and the market alike while the private sector lived off governmental contracts. All these are being addressed via decisions and arrangements that fall within the context of the plan to rebuild the new kingdom.

When the recent decisions pertaining to fighting corruption, including detentions, were made, I recalled Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s insistence that the car will work or he will replace it. He carried out certain measures to reform the market distortion and prices.

He ended social restraints that prevented development and allowed women to drive and introduced entrainment programs. He laid the foundation stone for projects that end reliance on oil.

Ambitious vision

It is not possible to reform the government and achieve the very ambitious vision with the spread of bribes. Corruption causes many problems, whether political, social and economic. The cost has been high on the government throughout all these decades while results have been poor.

This situation cannot keep up with the ambitions of the crown prince who will not settle with just meeting the budget aims at the end of every year as he vowed to implement a renaissance project. He began executing this project and he will continue working on it for another 13 years.

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The modern state that’s capable of bearing its responsibilities must be transparent, fair, efficient and productive. We cannot expect the crown prince to, for instance, impose the idea of women driving on those who obstruct development in society without resolving corruption problems, no matter how high the ranks.

We now know him. Prince Mohammed bin Salman opposes the policy of postponing solutions, which has lasted for decades, whether when confronting a harmful country like Qatar or a hired group like the Houthis or allowing extremists to hinder society’s development or letting the state be robbed by men accepting bribes.

The crown prince insists to make Saudi Arabia a bigger regional power and a modern, strong and successful state whose economy is among the world’s top ten, and not top twenty, economies.

I’ll conclude what I began my piece with. Few weeks ago, I saluted his highness for the amazing decisions made. He asked me: “What do you think? Did the car work?” I said: “At an amazing speed.” He replied: “We have not begun yet.”

Who can imagine that this is the same Saudi Arabia which was worn out and slow just two years ago?

This article is also available in Arabic.
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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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