On the difficult transition in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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It’s not easy to market something in a hostile environment. What’s more difficult is to convince skeptics who know us well and who think that it’s impossible for this nation to change. This is how the Saudi desire to change is met outside the kingdom within different economic, media and political circles.

I understand think tanks’ and media institutions’ suspicions as most economic projects in countries with developing economies have not achieved much. Plans in these countries usually kick off during national or electoral celebrations and end there.

There are only few successful models, like South Korea and Singapore. These marked rare cases. Meanwhile other countries are awaiting their turn to prove themselves.


The Saudi plan includes amazing ideas and significant promises which require the Saudis’ faith. People outside the kingdom, however, do not believe them and think they are mere promises which must be doubted until they become a reality. This is actually okay.

Foreign media is in fact skeptic, and it’s not easy for it to believe that a country like Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern country can overcome its past and transform into a new country that’s capable of creating and working towards what is often viewed as contradictory to it.

Skepticism should make us more determined to achieve the aspired change. It’s a tough task but it’s not impossible.

Healthy economies do not stand on the government’s crutches and are capable of providing job opportunities and higher incomes

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The new decisions to correct prices – by cutting off subsidies – is not easy. Very few actually believed that the government is willing to take this political risk, but it did. Subsidy policies may be temporary need but they harm the economy when they last for a long time. In the past, governments resorted to subsidies as easy political solutions to resolve urgent matters.

As time went by, these subsidies remained active and the government did not dare change them. Healthy economies are those that do not stand on the government’s crutches and that are capable of providing job opportunities and higher incomes. They are those that are less vulnerable. Countries must walk a rough path to reach this advanced phase.

This is why most analysts and commentators doubt the economic correction measures. Some of the questions they ask are: Can they walk till the end of the path and bear the social, economic and political risks?

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It is well-known that politicians prefer to satisfy their citizens via subsidies and whatever pleases them. However, this is not in their favor because there will come a dark day when decision-makers cannot provide jobs, services and good incomes. I am not lecturing or being pessimistic. These are the facts which we can conclude as long as our circumstances do not change.

Protecting future generations

Subsidy cuts on commodities’ prices may not please many people, however, this is about their future and their children’s future. Even if oil prices increase again and governmental revenues increase as a result, resorting to the subsidy policy and to a rentier economy again is not in the citizens’ interests and it does not serve the country’s future.

The goal is to build a real future that protects generations by relying as less as possible on oil revenues and on government’s support. We must have a place under the sun, and the world only respects superior states.

The media will only end its mockery when it sees that these countries, which seek change, are capable of proving themselves. Once these countries achieve the aspired success, they will care less about their image and what others think of them.

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Skeptic economists think the proposed ideas do not suit our society and cannot be achieved in a culture that relies on oil revenues. We understand these doubts.

Change is difficult because a major part of it is based on developing the society and not just on developing modern cities and importing advanced technologies. Everything we know needs to change such as education. New concepts must be introduced and this is more difficult than we think.

The final aim is for the society to get out of the cocoon it’s been living in – to no longer be a burden on the government and to stop relying on the revenues of a single product which is governed by the market fluctuations and technological development.

This is a transitional phase with a 12 years’ duration. We must view it as a state of emergency that requires both parties’ – i.e. the government and citizens – endurance and perseverance.

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.