News Updates

Saudis welcome Trump with gold medal, receive arms package – New Indian Express

RIYADH: President Donald Trump basked in Saudi Arabia’s lavish royal welcome Saturday as he left behind, at least temporarily, the snowballing controversies dogging him in Washington. Trump rewarded his hosts with a $110 billion arms package aimed at bolstering Saudi security and a slew of business agreements.

“That was a tremendous day, tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump said during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The visit to the kingdom’s capital kicked off Trump’s first foreign trip as president, an ambitious, five-stop swing that will take him through the Middle East and into Europe. He is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia — or any Muslim-majority nation — his first overseas trip.

Trump arrived in Riyadh besieged by the fallout from his firing of FBI Director James Comey and more revelations about the federal investigations into his election campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Escaping Washington for the embrace of the Saudi royal family appeared to give Trump a boost.

After an overnight flight, the president was greeted at the airport by King Salman, which was notable given that the monarch did not show up last year to welcome President Barack Obama on his final visit to Saudi Arabia.

Trump descended the steps alongside first lady Melania Trump, who wore a black pantsuit and gold belt, but did not cover her hair in the ultra-conservative kingdom, in keeping with the traditions of Western delegations.

As Trump and the 81-year-old king, who was aided by a cane, walked along the red carpet, military jets flew swept the sky, leaving a red, white and blue trail. During a ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, Salman awarded Trump the Collar of Abdulaziz al Saud, the kingdom’s highest civilian honor.

Trump bent down so the king could place the gold medal around his neck. Saudi Arabia has previously bestowed the honor on Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Obama.

Trump’s warm welcome reflected the degree to which Saudi Arabia had become disillusioned with Obama. The Saudis deeply distrusted Obama’s overtures to Iran and were frustrated by his restrained approach to the Syrian civil war.

As Trump arrived, Iranians had just re-elected Hassan Rouhani — one of Obama’s partners in the landmark accord aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions — for a second four-year-term as president, validating his push for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he hoped Rouhani would use his new term “to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism.”

Trump made no substantial remarks on his first day abroad and spent most of his time shuttling between opulent palace ballrooms with the king. The two were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and Salman bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria’s civil war.

The most tangible agreement between the two leaders was the $110 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia that is effective immediately and could expand up to $350 billion over 10 years. The deal includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology. The State Department said the agreement could support “tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.”


An Ambitious Young Prince Wants To Make Saudi Arabia More Fun – NDTV

In a country where cinemas are banned and even Starbucks are segregated by gender, a powerful young prince is pushing a plan to create jobs for women and a more integrated and satisfying social life for a youthful population long straitjacketed by oppressive cultural norms.

The expansive effort aims to overhaul and diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy and modernize a restless culture in which women make up just 22 percent of the workforce and nearly two-thirds of the population is under 30.

That means most Saudis have never lived in a society that places much value on fun and entertainment – the kind of world they see when they travel abroad. And that’s a world they seem to crave: Saudis spend more than $5 billion a year on overseas leisure travel.

“We want to be normal like anywhere else,” said Nouf al-Osaimi, 29, a scuba diving instructor who was gearing up for a dive at Dream Beach, a few miles north of this Red Sea port. Osaimi hopes to open her own dive school and thinks the government’s goals will make that easier for her and other female entrepreneurs. “The world is moving forward, and we need to keep up.”

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Founders of Loud Art, a local Saudi artist hub and galler are, from left, Najla Alsuhaimi, Raneen Bukhari and Doaa Alshafie.
The Vision 2030 plan, the most dramatic and far-reaching set of changes for the Saudi economy and society in decades, is being driven by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. King Salman’s outspoken 31-year-old son has emerged as a remarkably influential leader since his father took the crown two years ago. Mohammed met with President Trump at the White House in March, and the two are expected to see each other again when Trump visits the kingdom this weekend.

Unlike many high-profile members of the royal family, the prince was educated in Saudi Arabia, not at elite universities in the West, which young people here said gives his demands even more credibility.

“We are the same generation, and we speak the same language,” said Fatimah al-Sani, 29, a woman who works at Uturn Entertainment, a Jiddah company that produces YouTube videos and is planning to expand under Vision 2030.

In this country of 32 million people, the main entertainment options are shopping malls, cafes and restaurants that are still largely segregated. While men and women have been allowed to mingle more freely in public in recent years, there are relatively few museums or other venues for them to do that.

Prince Mohammed has said that people will be more productive workers if they are happier in their leisure time.

“We have a lot of weekends in the year, so we need options,” said Amr al-Madani, a top official of the General Entertainment Authority, which was created under Vision 2030 to license, arrange and sometimes finance cultural events. “People work hard, and they need to re-energize.”

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Saudi women attend a spinning class at Kore Studio in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in October 2016.
Since November, Madani said his group has supported more than 100 events in 21 cities, including art and food festivals, the Arab World’s first YouTube Fanfest, a Comic-Con convention, and a U.S.-style “monster jam,” with huge trucks with big wheels in a Riyadh soccer stadium attended by more than 25,000 people. It has even sponsored a handful of live music concerts, which have generally been banned.

More conservative members of Saudi society have complained that the prince is moving too fast. Madani noted that part of his job is to persuade people who are “intimidated” by what they fear will be an onslaught of Western-style entertainment with R-rated content. He said the authority is being careful to support only events that are family-friendly and reflect “Saudi values.”

Although change comes slowly in this conservative kingdom, analysts here said Prince Mohammed clearly has the support of his 81-year-old father and the backing of much of the business community, which hopes to recapture some of the billions that Saudis spend vacationing overseas.

“It’s logic and common sense,” said Soraqa al-Khatib, an executive at Uturn, the online entertainment firm in Jiddah. “If we can create the right environment here, I can tap into that.”

One evening last week, Maha, 30, waited in line with her sister, Ranya, 28, and nearly 200 other people to attend a show at Al Comedy Club in Jiddah, the only stand-up comedy venue in the country.

Maha and Ranya said they spent thousands of dollars last fall to fly to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, to see a concert by the singer Yanni.

“I would rather spend my money here, but there is nothing to do,” said Maha, a government payroll worker. “If we are just working all the time, what’s the point? We need things to do.”

They declined to give their last names because they did not tell their father they had gone to Abu Dhabi for the concert. Under Saudi law, women may not travel internationally without the permission of a male “guardian.” Their father had given them general permission, but they worried he would revoke it if he found out they had traveled without telling him.

Yaser Bakr, 38, said he started Al Comedy Club in 2012 and now hosts two shows every Thursday evening in the 185-seat theater. He said he initially had to request permits from local government officials who had difficulty even understanding the concept of someone standing on stage and making jokes: “It was like literally Chinese to them.” Bakr said dealing with the General Entertainment Authority has been much easier.

He said his comedians poke fun at Saudi society, but they go easy on religious and political topics, and avoid profane or explicit content. All of his comics are male, and the audience is segregated by gender with wooden partitions. The audience is also sober, because alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia.
“My prediction is that all the segregation will go away in a couple of years,” Bakr said, crediting Prince Mohammed with driving that change, including the calls for increasing female participation in the workforce to 30 percent and encouraging more women to start businesses.

“We have never before had someone who was not the king with this kind of clear power,” Bakr said.

Abrar Qari, 23, the first Saudi woman with a government license to run a video production studio, said the new atmosphere in the country toward women – and the promise of more business-friendly regulations and easier access to capital – has given her a chance to expand her company, which produces educational and cultural videos.

“I can hire other women and help them do the same – and more,” she said.

Qari spoke one day recently as she strapped a dive vest and air tank over her wet suit and flippered into the Red Sea with an underwater camera in her hand. She was filming a documentary about Nouf al-Osaimi, her female dive instructor, who holds Saudi deep-dive records.

“I feel like I am building bridges for the next generation,” Qari said. “And it’s all happening because of the Vision.”

The Vision is talked about everywhere in Saudi Arabia these days – touted on billboards, on television commercials, in newspaper advertisements and on social media. Prince Mohammed spoke about it in a nationally televised interview this month. He said in that interview that the country had also vastly increased its annual non-oil revenue in the past two years, from about $30 billion to $53 billion, from mining and other businesses.

At the same time, the government, faced with budget deficits from falling oil prices, has made unpopular cuts to government salaries and benefits, subsidies for gasoline and water and other generous benefits Saudis have long taken for granted. The plan also calls for a new value-added tax on goods, and selling off a chunk of Saudi Arabia’s crown jewel, the state-owned oil behemoth, Saudi Aramco.

Those economic measures have led to backlash, most notably in the kingdom’s hyperactive social-media world. But the prince’s social plans seem to have broad support.

For almost a quarter century, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, 54, was a member of the Saudi religious police, tasked with enforcing the kingdom’s strict cultural norms – including patrolling malls to make sure unrelated men and women weren’t mixing, breaking up gatherings with music, enforcing shop closings at prayer time.

Then Ghamdi had a change of heart. He left the religious police and now embraces the ideas he sees Prince Mohammed pushing. In many ways, he said, those societal changes trace their roots to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States in which 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. He said there was such international backlash against the kingdom, including from other Muslim countries, that “we started thinking about our own religious beliefs.”

The result, Ghamdi said, was a widespread view that Saudi society needs to modernize.

“There is a youthful spirit in our country, and a push for change – things will not stay the same,” he said.

That rings true in the Jiddah offices of Uturn, where women – some in hijabs, some with their hair uncovered – and men work on laptops in a shared office space filled with glass walls and ping-pong and foosball tables. The company has about 80 YouTube channels and employs about 40 people producing everything from comedy to shows on beauty – and plans to expand.

“This is exciting, life-changing and empowering,” said Zoya Shahid, 24, a Uturn employee who wears a hijab.

Emad Eskander, 34, Uturn’s creative director, said the company is careful to follow Saudi cultural norms. But still, he said, the religious police used to come to their offices occasionally to complain about their content – until last year, when King Salman stripped away much of the religious police’s power as part of efforts to modernize.

Now, Eskander said, Uturn is hoping to take advantage of the new environment to produce feature films made by Saudis, about Saudi issues, which he hopes will ultimately be shown in Saudi cinemas, built thanks to the changes in his country.

“This is very real,” he said. “And it’s good for business.”



Trump and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman are the most dangerous men in the world – and they’re meeting next week

Many people view Donald Trump as the most dangerous man on the planet, but next week he flies to Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit during which he will meet a man who surely runs him a close second as a source of instability. This is deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31 – the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia since his father King Salman, 81, is incapacitated by old age – who has won a reputation for impulsiveness, aggression and poor judgement in the two-and-half years he has held power. Early on he escalated the Saudi role in Syria, thereby helping to precipitate Russian military intervention, and initiated a war in Yemen that is still going on and has reduced 17 million people to the brink of famine. Combine his failings with those of Trump, a man equally careless or ignorant about the consequence of his actions, and you have an explosive mixture threatening the most volatile region on earth.

Prince Mohammed, who is also defence minister, is not a man who learns from his mistakes or even notices that he has made them. Less than a year after his father became king in January 2015, the BND German intelligence agency issued a warning that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention” abroad and blamed this on the deputy crown prince whom it portrayed as a naïve political gambler. The degree of alarm within the BND about his impact on the region must have been high for them to release such a document which was swiftly withdrawn at the insistence of the German foreign ministry, but its predictions have been fulfilled disastrously in the following eighteen months.

The deputy crown prince is turning out to be not only a gambler, but one who recklessly raises his stakes when in trouble. Proof of this came in an extraordinary but under-reported interview he gave earlier this month, broadcast on al-Arabiya TV and Saudi TV, in which he threatens military intervention in Iran. “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran,” he says. Speaking in highly sectarian terms, he claims that the Iranian Shia leaders are planning to seize Mecca and to establish their rule over all the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. He believes that “their logic is based on the notion that Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for his arrival and they must control the Muslim world.” His diatribe is as anti-Shia as it is anti-Iranian and likely to provoke fears among Shia in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia itself, where Shia make up a tenth of the population, that they will be the victims of an anti-Shia crusade.

It is absurd to imagine that the four or five Shia countries have the ambition or the ability to take over the fifty or more that are Sunni, though Sunni fundamentalists accuse tiny Shia minorities in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Indonesia of plotting to do so. Prince Mohammed appears to give credence to the theory of a grand anti-Sunni conspiracy orchestrated by Iran, saying that, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran has been trying to “control Muslims in the Islamic world and spread the Twelver Jaafari [Shia] sect in the Islamic world so Imam Mahdi comes.”

There is more at play here than Prince Mohammed whipping up religious and nationalist feelings in Saudi Arabia to secure his own power base and fend off his rivals within the royal family. None of his foreign ventures have so far achieved their aims: in Syria in the spring of 2015 Saudi Arabia gave support to the so-called Army of Conquest, consisting primarily of the al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front and its then ally Ahrar al-Sham. This won a series of victories against pro-Assad forces in Idlib province but their success led to Russian military intervention later the same year that was a turning point in the war. Saudi influence was marginalised, something that he blames on “former American President Barack Obama [who] wasted many significant opportunities he could have seized to achieve great change in Syria.” In practice, Saudi Arabia was hoping for US military intervention to enforce regime change in Syria along the lines of Iraq in 2003 or Libya in 2011. Obama was privately critical of Saudi actions and the tradition of the Washington foreign policy establishment of giving automatic support to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Nevertheless, in Yemen Mr Obama gave backing until the last days of his presidency to the Saudi-led bombing campaign which has been devastating the country since March 2015 but has so far failed to win the war for the Saudis’ local allies. It has brought terrible suffering to the Yemeni population of 27 million, of whom the UN estimates that 17 million are “food insecure” including 3.3 million pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children, some 462,000 under the age of five, who are “acutely malnourished” or, in other words, starving. Saudi-backed forces are poised to attack the Red Sea port of Hodeida, through which come 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports which make up most of its food supplies. If the port  is closed then Yemenis will face the worst man-made famine since Mao Tse-Tung’s Great Leap Forward. Prince Mohammed says the war is all but won, though, mysteriously, in finishing off the other side, “thousands of our troops can fall victims. There will be funerals in all Saudi cities.”

Trump has already ordered greater US support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, but the deputy crown prince will be primarily bidding for US backing for his confrontation with Iran. Words are already turning into action with reports of the US and Saudi Arabia being at one in planning to stir up an anti-government insurgency among minorities in Iran such as the Baluchis in the south east, something that has been done before but with limited impact.

Saudi leaders were overjoyed by the election of Trump whom they see as sympathetic to them and the Gulf leaders whom he will meet after he arrives in Saudi Arabia on 19 May, before going on to Israel. It is a chilling tribute to the authoritarian instincts of Trump that his first foreign visit as President should be to the last arbitrary monarchies left on earth and to a state where women are not even allowed to drive. On the question of confronting Iran, he is unlikely to be restrained by his Defence Secretary, James Mattis, and his National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, both former generals scarred by America’s war in Iraq, where they see Iran as the main enemy.

The White House is doubtless conscious that the one-time Trump has won universal plaudits in the US was when he fired missiles in Syria and dropped a big bomb in Afghanistan. Trump and Prince Mohammed may be very different in some respects, but both know that fighting foreign foes and waving the flag shores up crumbling support at home.


WATCH & READ: Mohammed Bin Salman’s full interview – Al Arabiya

Al-Arabiya Interview with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud May 4th 2017

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s interview broadcast on Al Arabiya TV in parallel with Saudi TV, read the full transcript below:

Q: When Vision 2030 was announced last year it launched two programs: the National Transformation Program and the fiscal balance program. Last Sunday, it launched 10 programs. Why did it start with just two programs and now it launched 10?

Few months after the launching of the Vision 2030 in Ramadan 2016, the outline of the vision was launched and it was clear that the idea was to implement the vision through the programs. The programs are divided into 3 batches; the first is till 2020, the second 2025 and the third 2030. These are executive programs that have clear objectives and methods to achieve the vision. What was launched last Sunday was the rest of the vision programs till 2020. These programs should be achieved during 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Two programs were launched, namely the National Transformation Program and the fiscal balance program because we were racing time, we don’t want to be late and at the same time we want to deliver professional outcomes. So the decision at that time was to launch any program that is ready to be launched and the pending ones would follow later. Last Sunday, we decided on 10 programs for 2020. Government bodies and concerned parties will work through the programs’ councils led by the ministers of economic affairs and development, to prepare these programs in the next few months. We expect to launch it gradually within six months.

Q: The goal behind the National Transformation Plan was to improve the functioning of government bodies?

True, this is why we included indicators and objectives for 24 government bodies. The second batch will be launched in the next few weeks and we will add to it several others bodies that were not included within the first 24 bodies that were included in the national transformation program.

Q: A year has passed after the launch of the vision 2030. How did it effect development, unemployment and non-oil revenues? How do you see it?

I believe we have done a great achievement. I don’t want to say that it was more than what we expected, but a lot of achievements were accomplished. So, if we observe the situation from 50,000 feet, we will find that the budget deficit is less than what local and global experts have expected for 2015, 2016 and 2017. We will also find that non-oil revenues have nearly doubled during these 2 years, from SAR 111 billion to approximately SAR 200 billion. We will also see that the budget has become more accurate; last year, the deficit has dropped from 25 percent or 45 percent, to a deficit that is less than 10 percent. These are obvious achievements that can be spotted from far. Moreover, if we look at the drop in the oil prices in the 80s, 90s and the year 2009, we will notice that the primary financial indicators were affected, like the unemployment rate that increased during the sharp drop of prices, the inflation rate increased severely and the investment rate dropped sharply.

However, during this crisis, the oil price has witnessed an unprecedentedly swift drop in the history of the Saudi Kingdom to the extent that it has reached $27 per barrel for a short period and the drop lingered for a year or more. Thanks be to God, and with the directives of the King and the work of government bodies, officials and employees, they were able to protect many indicators and rates from being negatively affected. The unemployment rate for instance was protected and did not get affected in a major way. The same applies to the inflation rate that did not get effected like before. Also the investment rate did not get effected negatively and the development rate was still positive although it is true that it is not as high as the international rate, but the Saudi economy did not deflate. The impact of these programs that are launched will be clear by the end of 2017. We will see the peak of its impact in 2018 and 2019 on all levels.

Q: Regarding the unemployment issue, from the beginning of this year, with the stagnation witnessed in the local market, people were dismissed from their jobs. How do you see that?

Any reform or transformation in the country there will certainly have side effects. This is very normal especially that the oil price has dropped to $27 and stayed for a long period of time underneath the $40. This is will have a lot of side effects and it will affect the expenditures of the state. In these 10 programs, there will be different expenditures, whether in investments or government or private sector expenditures, this will strongly promote the creation of employments in the coming years. As we know, the goal of the vision 2030 is to reach a 7 percent rate of unemployment in Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt that these programs will better rates in 2020.

Q: Nowadays, allowances are paid again. Why did the allowances stop and why are they back?

The decision to stop allowances was a temporary one. In the text of the decision, it was stated that the allowances subject should be reviewed regularly. It was reviewed at the right time, after our oil revenues increased. As you know, in the fiscal balance program there were 3 scenarios of oil prices: low (pessimist) $45, medium (average) $50 and high (optimist) $55. This is not according to the Saudi evaluation but it was rather used to arrange our fiscal situation with the different prices.

Sometimes, we go beyond the optimistic scenario at $55 and sometimes we go slightly below, and this is a positive element.

The other positive point is that our non-oil revenues in the first quarter of 2017 have achieved more than what was expected.

Thus, the decision had to be changed and the allowances issue was reviewed in accordance with the text of the decision.

Meanwhile, this is a great achievement for the concerned fiscal, economic and investment parties that were able to save us from this situation in less than 8 months. Huge efforts were deployed in the oil agreement with OPEC countries and non-OPEC countries. This deal was a first in history as we always knew about the deals with OPEC countries only, but this is the first time in history that there is a deal between OPEC and non-OPEC countries and this is what enhanced our position and made it very positive on the level of the government’s oil revenues. Moreover, the measures that were taken in non-oil sectors have also helped greatly. Also, the investments and the reorganization of sectors falling under the public investment funds helped in these revenues that enhanced our position and helped in taking such a decision.

Q: Were the allowances influential in reaching a decision to stop them?

When you see that the oil price dropped to $27 and stayed under $40 for several months, you cannot know the scenario for the coming 3-4 years. We didn’t know if our efforts in the oil agreement will be rewarding or not. We did not know if our programs regarding our non-oil revenues will be rewarding or not. We did not know if our investments will be remunerating in a short period of time or whether we won’t be able to take profits that would help the government budget on the short run. We cannot bargain at the expense of the national economy. It is true that this has happened in the past, in the 1980s and in 1997, but the previous era was different because we took a few months to get back to normal course this time whereas, in previous cases in our history and the history of other countries, things used to take years to return to normal.

Q: I mean the amounts and volumes were influential?

That’s sure. If you want to close the taps you own, you must take all necessary measures to make sure that you are doing well and then, you reopen them properly.

Q: How do you respond to some Western newspapers that said that this decision was due to popular pressure and this represents a step back for you?

This is not true. The deficit dropped by 44 percent in the first quarter; this proves the truth of our words. The deficit falls below our expectation, so why would we carry on the austerity measures.

Q: What are the most prominent steps that have helped in lowering the budget deficit?

1- Oil revenues are the most important factor and the main reason for the oil agreement.
2- Non-oil revenues with some action that have been undertaken in the last 2 years.
3- Public Investment Fund revenues; for the first time the Public Investment Fund generate tens of billion for the treasury in 2015, 2016 and God willing more than that in 2017.

These are 3 most important factors that made the deficit fall by 44 percent.

Q: What if the price of oil falls below $30?

We expect the deficit in the second, third, and fourth quarters not to be less than 44 percent, because we have raised our expenditures again.

Q: What if the price of oil fell again below $30, would we return to austerity measures?

There is no doubt that if we go through a critical stage again, we will return to the austerity measures. However, what we are working on today and the current initiatives will make us stronger in facing shocks. If our initiatives succeed we will be good with oil prices below $50. This will allow us to face crises in a stronger stance without taking action to tighten the belt.

Q: After the return of allowances, people started thinking that the Citizen’s Account will not be completed?

The unified Citizen’s Account is to compensate the citizens for any rise in the prices of energy, water and similar services, so that the price does not affect citizens with middle income. The impact would be just on the rich citizen or foreigners. Today we want to redirect the financial support toward citizens. The average income or the limited income citizens can spend the money that they had previously spent on energy, water, oil or other goods, or reduce their consumption and spend that amount on other things.

Q: Almost 12 million citizens registered their information. Have you started benefiting from it?

Now we believe that those who need support are less than 10 million, or nearly ten million; the competent authorities are working to determine the final form.

Q: Do these 10 million include the poor and the average?

Sure. We are trying to be as generous as possible, and we are trying to include the largest possible categories, even if they were slightly above the average in a way that does impact Saudi citizens. Until now the details have not been finalized and competent authorities will still be working on it for the next few months.

Q: How will you deal with future unemployment? Do you have figures related to it?

You can notice that in the 10 programs that were launched it is required from each program in the next six months to measure the impact of each program on the main economic indicators, including the unemployment index. In the next six months we will see the impact of each unemployment program. The percentage will affect unemployment. In the next six months, we will see the impact of each launched program on unemployment and how it will create jobs. We expect that the impact of these programs will be very strong and will reduce the unemployment rate. I cannot give you an exact figure before the time of the announcement of each program.

Q: In your opinion, what is the expected rise in public debt between 2017 and 2018?

As announced in the fiscal balance program, the public debt will not exceed 30 percent. We target the public debt on 30 percent of GDB and so far we have not reached the 30 percent. There are expectations that we might go below 30 percent in 2020 and a public debt of 30 percent is not a problem. All the countries in the world have GDB and some of them have a 50 percent, 60 percent and even 200 percent GDP, including G20 countries. If we look at the big countries and the 5 biggest economies, we will see that their public debt is above 30 percent. It is healthy for the Saudi economy to have debt because it would mean that we have developmental programs opportunity, on which we are spending money. We have 2 options: We can either spend, support development and create jobs in the private sector, or stop spending. However, the public rate is falling slightly and this is a push for us to reach international rates and carry on with our spending.

Q: How do you see the future of the Public Investment Fund over the next three years? Will the investments be internal or internal and external?

The Public Investment Fund is one of the most important pillars of Vision 2030. We have an opportunity to develop the size of the Public Investment Fund through:

1- Unutilized assets; many assets we introduced, some of which have been beheld or announced to the Public Investment Fund. These will be reflected in the size of the fund, its value and its profits.
2- We have heard that the state needs some of the reserves that are not financial so, SAR 100 billion were transferred to the Public Investment Fund several months ago. There is also a restructuring of the public investment fund companies so that their performance, growth and profits are better than the before. All of these factors will enhance the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and on top of these is Saudi Aramco.

Q: What about Aramco?

As we mentioned, Aramco will provide a large cash flow to the Public Investment Fund and will help target many sectors in and outside Saudi Arabia. One of the most important sectors that Aramco will fund inside Saudi Arabia is the mining sector.

According to the survey of the 1970s, which was re-examined last year, I think that there are opportunities in mining (amounting to $1 trillion and $300 billion), which is the value of the minerals in Saudi Arabia: the gold alone amounts to $240 billion, and it requires a very large investment. It is always difficult for foreign and local investors to take risks in a new sector like the mining sector. Hence, the investment must be made through the Public Investment Fund, and part of Aramco’s cash flow will enable the fund from investing in this new sector that has used less than 3 percent. We have another very important goal, that is the goal of the local content: today the amount of Saudi Arabia’s purchases outside Saudi Arabia on goods or activities, etc., is up to $230 billion. The goal of the vision 2030 is to have half of this spending inside the Kingdom. When we take the most important items of local content ($230 billion), we find that the military production varies between $50-70 billion per year, with slight variations, as we are third largest country in the world to have 99 percent of the military armament spending outside the Kingdom. This is a huge opportunity to find large industries within the Kingdom and find jobs and development. It is important to note that the decision is taken 100 percent by the government; today, the government has taken a decision requiring that any industry should be linked to local content (i.e, I only buy from you if you have a certain percentage of local contents).

There are types of industries like technical industries that are not highly sensitive and in this case other countries would not mind transferring it completely to Saudi Arabia, such as light weapons, ammunition or everything that can be listed under it from parts or structures, etc. There are industries that are of medium technicality; some of the country would be somehow sensitive about it so we try to get out of the deal with a certain percentage of local content and we can reach a percentage of 70 percent, 50 percent or 20 percent of local content at times. Also, there are complex industries that countries refuse to transfer to Saudi Arabia, thus, we ask for the main material to be through Saudi Arabia and this will indirectly impact the local content of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has now imposed a condition that no weapons deal will be done if there is no Saudi content that aims to completely transfer the production to inside Saudi Arabia. If we do not succeed, we must reach at least a 50 percent of local content by 2030. This would mean that half of the 50 percent ($70 billion) is spent inside Saudi Arabia in 2030, and will gradually increase. Today there are a series of armament deals that will be announced in the coming period, and we will know in each deal how much content is local and how many job it will create. The armament is the largest sector for the local content; the second largest is the automotive industry, with a value of 30 billion dollars spent yearly to buy cars. The positive element is that $13 billion of these purchases are for the Saudi government. So we can start first by providing the Saudi government with cars through Saudi manufacturing companies that the Saudi government is contributing to. This will get us to 40 percent or 43 percent in 2030 in terms of automotive industry.

Q: Will there be a localization of the automotive industry?

We will not try to provide the citizen with cars in the next 10 years as it will be very difficult to compete in terms of prices and it will also be difficult to convince him of the quality. However, we can ensure that these deals are handled by the government until finding a passage for this industry within Saudi Arabia. The third important sector in terms of local content is the entertainment and tourism (22 billion dollars are spent annually outside Saudi Arabia on entertainment and tourism). This is the most difficult sector because the decision is fully taken by the Saudi citizen and not linked in any way to the Saudi government. Thus, it is difficult to invest in a sector that will require the Saudi citizen to be convinced to spend the money inside Saudi Arabia rather than abroad. We are aiming to transfer 50 percent of the spending on this sector to the Saudi Arabia in 2030. Many sectors and items are listed under the local contents because we are aiming to transfer 115 billion dollars from the 230 billion that are spent abroad annually, to be spent inside Saudi Arabia. After 2030, the amount will gradually increase.

So, from now until 2030, these will be our challenges and profitability. They might not be successful and might be risky and the only investor would be the public investments fund until we succeed, then, it will be privatized and sold in the stock market so that the fund regains its moneys and get into other opportunities. This is the second sector targeted by the public investment fund after the mining sector. The third sector is the logistics sector: we have 3 very huge opportunities in logistics and we are seriously working on them. The most important opportunity is the Red Sea, with 13 percent of world trade passing through it and Saudi Arabia does not offer anything in return (zero services), and here we have huge opportunities to work along the Red Sea dealing with many of the exports and imports. We have already started working with many countries, the most important of which is China and we are currently preparing a huge initiative with China in the industrial city of Jazan; there are also other countries who are joining gradually.

Q: Will this include ports development?

Yes, developing ports and participating in industrial cities along the Red Sea. We are also working on an another opportunity that is Saudi and Gulf exports to Europe; we aim to send 40 percent of the exports of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to Europe, especially that Gulf countries extend from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Hormuz and from the Arabian Sea to Bab al-Mandab, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. This step will take time and it will be costly and risky. We can provide them with a passageway through Saudi Arabia, directly to the north of Sinai through the King Salman Bridge that was announced last year, reducing time and cost; the security guarantees will be much higher than those in the areas that it already passes through.

Q: Are you still working on the King Salman Bridge project?

Sure. There will be many industries and businesses in Saudi Arabia linking roads, connecting power networks, linking gas and oil pipelines and connecting railways to the North of Sinai. The aviation is the third opportunity falling under the logistics section. Today, our brothers in the UAE and Qatar have done a very good job in the aviation in the Middle East, although they do not have a strong local market to rely on to get into and control the Middle East markets. Saudi Arabia has the largest domestic aviation market and Saudi Airlines should have a much larger stake in Middle East today.

Q: What are the reasons behind the lack of achievement in Saudi aviation? Is it due to weak airports?

It is due to the lack of strategy. We so not have a strategy or vision regarding the airports; we were working randomly and this why we reached the stage we have reached today. If we had set a goal and plan to reach this goal, we would have achieved it with 100 percent, 50 percent or 30 percent results. In brief, the Fund is the main engine for the major sectors in Saudi Arabia.

The Fund will have a very large cash flow from Aramco and at least 50 percent up to 70 percent of this cash will be used in new sectors inside Saudi Arabia (mining, local content and logistics). After covering the opportunities within Saudi Arabia, the remaining 50 percent or 30 percent will target the promising sectors outside Saudi Arabia, which we would be leading in ten years. The details of all of these things will be announced during the accurate and detailed launch of the Public Investment Fund Program.

Q: Questions have been raised regarding housing projects as a priority. What is your take on that?

We are working on many fronts and if one party has done an achievement we cannot say that the other party is delaying the process. This is why we cannot disrupt the work of the entire government. All parties should support, encourage and make achievements, and the one that causes delays should be helped in the causes and solutions to the delay. This is on one side; on the other side, the government is not the one behind public investment fund; we spend from the assets of the fund that are owned and were not exploited. In the past, it was giving us a 1 percent to 2.5 percent profit at best, and was including bonds and funds outside Saudi Arabia. Today we are transferring these funds to Saudi Arabia and we are investing in sectors that can reward us with more than 1 percent or 2.5 percent profitability. It develops main sectors and contributes to the local content.

Ultimately, there will be profits for the Fund, which will be transferred to the State Treasury and consequently, the state will become stronger and will be able to cover more than housing expenses and others needed by the state. It will create many jobs that will solve many problems for Saudi citizens, and will also contribute to the development of the private sector.

Q: Will the fund help galvanize the housing sector?

The Real Estate Development Fund is certainly one of the major factors influencing the development of the housing sector. There are three types of housing- there is free housing and these are hundreds of thousands and I cannot provide a final number. Then there is housing supported by the Real Estate Development Fund and housing that’s supported through the major investor which is the government that facilitates it for Saudi citizens to buy houses for reduced prices. This is a very long-term loan as its profit to the fund does not exceed 3 percent. Citizens can own the house on the second day and pay for years without affecting his major income. This is in addition to free units with the biggest size possible and we will give these to citizens who cannot cover the costs of the housing programs.

Q: When do you expect the program to be launched?

It should be within six months. I do not think it is going to be one of the first programs to be launched because it is very complicated and involves high expenditure. I expect it to be launched in the third quarter of 2017.

Q: Your Highness, some economists fear for Aramco and think it’s state-owned and must not be listed for an IPO. What do you think?

I think this tends to be close to the socialist communist approach where everything is owned by the state, even a bakery must be owned by the state. According to the documents based on which Aramco was established in the era of King Abdulaziz – may he rest in peace – there were plans to sell shares at the time. Today, you have a company with a very high value. You can keep this company in Saudi Arabia and keep its influence in Saudi Arabia and make it develop in Saudi Arabia while benefitting from its value by motivating other sectors that are not in Saudi Arabia. The amount of money we will make through Aramco will help us seize many opportunities, like we said at the beginning of the interview. If Aramco is not put for IPO, it means it will take us 40-50 years to develop the mining sector. It will take us 40 years until we develop the local product and it will take us long years to develop logistical services just like we wasted 40 years in the past while trying to develop these sectors. When we offer part of Aramco’s stock and take this cash money and establish new and strong sectors in Saudi Arabia, economy will develop, jobs will be available and the revenues of the government and the fund will improve. This is in addition to other benefits. All this will happen while Aramco is still in Saudi Arabia.

Q: What will be its value and the percentage?

There are two major factors to specify the percentage of offering.

Q: What will we sell? The service or the wells or what?

We’re selling the value of the company. The wells are owned by the government. Only the company has the right to benefit from these wells. This was the case in the past and it’s the case today and nothing has changed. The size of the share, which will be sold, is linked to two factors. The first one is demand. Is there demand or not? The second one is what do we have on the pipeline, like investments inside or outside Saudi Arabia. There was demand. However, cash is what we need because we don’t have a sector to invest in in Saudi Arabia or contain this investment so why sell an Aramco share. However if there is demand and there is a sector that needs this amount to invest in the day after, then we will immediately sell. These two factors are what specify how much we will sell from Aramco but it’s certainly won’t be far off 5 percent.

Q: When will Aramco shares be sold?


Q: Are you working now on paperwork and authorizations?


Q: If Aramco shares are sold who will specify the production ceiling of Aramco?

The Saudi government will do that. It will specify the production ceiling. It is in the Saudi government’s interest to increase production according to the price that suits the company. Part of the government’s returns is the tax on the oil (50 percent) that’s sold or produced. There are also taxes it takes from Aramco. The government’s interest is to increase Aramco’s profit. This means that the government will not take a decision that goes against its interests or with Aramco’s interests regarding the production rate.

Q: Your Highness, considering the vision and the economic situation, will production be liberated from political decisions?

Production is not a political decision. Production is an economic decision. It has never been a political decision in the past. To specify a suitable production price is an economic interest. This is governed by supply and demand and coordination with OPEC countries and non-OPEC countries in order to coordinate the quantity of supply and demand so there is no collapse or confusion in oil prices.

Q: One of the programs launched last Sunday was the investment project to motivate 100 companies so they become regional or international. What kind of companies will be upgraded?

I cannot name companies now. Some companies are in the stock market and others are not. We seek more than 100 companies that have a chance to transform from a local company to a pioneering regional company and we also seek companies that have the chance to transform from a pioneering regional company to a pioneering global company. There is a group of companies that can achieve such a transformation. This will have great influence and it will be reflected on the Saudi economy. This requires easy procedures, facilitations and agreements with other countries to facilitate their sale and their expansion.

Q: Will the government negotiate on behalf of companies and look after their interests?

Certainly. We noticed that all governments in the world do that. We have seen this most recently. Few days ago, the German chancellor was here and the most prominent company directors in Germany were here. She negotiated as if the companies are owned by the German government. She was engaged in all details to help these companies succeed. The Saudi government must perform its role to help Saudi national companies succeed. This will turn 100 Saudi companies from pioneering local companies to regional and from pioneering regional companies to global. We will thus have the experience in how to transform these companies into huge companies as after 2020 we will do programs that target a wider range of these companies.

Q: Does this mean that the government may extend loan to them?

This is possible and will depend on what will be announced in the program.

Q: The private sector is now complaining about rising operating costs and thinks this will harm the industry and commerce. What do you think of this and of the increase in prices and the shrinking economic condition?

I do not think this is accurate but programs which will be executed will strongly motivate the work of the private sector and will strongly increase sales to the private sector. If hundreds of billions are spent in a short period of time this will certainly positively influence the private sector. I will give you an example. In the past, we only depended on the government’s capital expenditure. In the next years, we will have a high government capitalist expenditure. This is one. Two: there will be expenditure from the reserves mentioned in the financial balance program, 200 billion riyals to develop the private sector. This is another expenditure that’s different from the capital expenditure we got used to. Thirdly, and this is important, is the expenditure of the public investment fund. The public investment fund will spend inside Saudi Arabia after Aramco offers over SAR 500 billion in just 3 years. Imagine this expenditure in the military industry or in manufacturing cars or providing entertainment and creating tourism and other industries. Imagine the influence on all of the private sector. This will strongly motivate their sales in all sectors whether in retail or transport or services sector etc.

Q: Will you impose taxes on the companies’ income?

No, this was not mentioned and it was not mentioned in the financial balance program. We mentioned there will be no taxes on incomes.

Q: With regard to companies coming to Saudi Arabia, are efforts being made to attract foreign investments?

Yes. Today, the ministry of commerce is working on screening the work of the investment commission and our work in a different way. We used to wait for companies to make the request but today we seek the companies that we want for them to work in Saudi Arabia. There is a very long list of companies which the investment commission must seek every year and bring into the Saudi market.

Q: Is there someone who wants to enter the market but makes complains about the procedure here?

Easy procedures greatly contribute to the work of these companies. For instance, I’ll tell you a recent incident that happened during the German chancellor’s visit. German companies had a problem that our licenses in Saudi Arabia for only for one year while their strategies and investments are based on four years. In this case, a change is made and the license will last for five years. Easy procedures greatly motivate the work of foreign companies in Saudi Arabia.

Q: On privatizing the healthcare sector, the minister was quoted as saying during a seminar that hospitals will be privatized. Then it was said they will be turned into companies owned by the state. Where do we stand on this?

In successful countries healthcare sector is privatized. If we look at the US for example, the American government does not own hospitals. Each hospital is co-owned by the private sector and the non-profit sector. The government’s role is to guarantee free treatment of Saudi citizens. Instead of operating a hospital and spending on it and having a quality that does not please citizens, we privatize them. Companies will thus own them and we take care of an insurance policy for each citizen. The citizen chooses the hospital where he wants to be treated whether it is owned by the private sector or the non-profit sector. This will create high competition among hospitals owned by the private sector and they will provide good services to attract citizens who have insurance policies and make more profit. This will create a much better healthcare sector that provides the best services with much less corruption because interests are now between stakeholders. This will also reduce the Saudi government’s burden related to management and decrease high costs that the Saudi government incurs on the healthcare sector. This money will be spent in other sectors that need this expenditure.

Q: When will this begin?

It is a very complicated project. We expect things to be clearer during the current year.

Q: What are the other sectors that can be privatized in the near future?

Municipal sectors and transportation, mainly airports, airlines and ports are the major sectors that we target in the current phase.

Q: Your Highness said the number of those who want to perform Umrah and Hajj will increase by preparing the Two Holy Mosques and improving facilities. However Muslims in Pakistan for example or of other countries or Muslims who reside here think that fees will have an effect and turnout will be lower so instead of having a person perform Umrah four times a year, he will perform Umrah once a year.

This is not true, and those who stand behind this propaganda hate Saudi Arabia and hate Saudi interests and are trying to seize any opportunity to make Islamic communities dislike Saudi Arabia. First of all, before this decision, there were fees on Hajj and Umrah visas worth 50 Saudi riyals. The person who comes the first time pays 50 Saudi riyals on Hajj and Umrah visa. Such fees are not only on Hajj and Umrah visas but target all the Saudi government visas and unifies their price. In order to serve pilgrims and people who perform Umrah, the government covered the costs of the first visit that any Muslim does and this visit will be at the expense of the government. If a Muslim wants to perform hajj for the first time, he does not pay for the visa and the Saudi government pays the visa fees. If a Muslim wants to perform Umrah for the first time, the government pays the visa fees. However, regarding the person who comes for a second or third time, first of all, he’s draining the Saudi economy and we’ve served him the first time for free. Second of all, he’s taking the spot of other Muslims who want to come and perform Umrah and Hajj.

Q: A minister was removed due to abuse of power. Is this the outcome of the Corruption Commission?

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz – may God protect him – made changes since the first day he assumed power as he realizes the importance of the Corruption Commission’s work. He was also not satisfied with the role this committee has played. If fighting corruption is not on the top of the agenda it means the fight is not succeeding and attempts being made to do so will not succeed no matter what you do. I reiterate that anyone who is involved in corruption will not be spared, whether he is a minister, a prince or whoever he is. Anyone whom there is enough evidence against him will be held accountable.

Q: Will social media networks contribute to exposing corruption?

Documents regarding corruption must not be taken from social media networks as we do not know who is forging it and who is not and what is real and what is fake and who has a certain agenda and who doesn’t. Any Saudi citizen who has documents that expose corruption or information about corruption can submit them to the relevant authority, mainly to the anti-corruption commission and he must trust the relevant authorities and have confidence they will perform their role.

Q: Your Highness, the war on Houthis in Yemen is going on. Will it go on?

No one wants the war to go on.

Q: What do you think is the future?

There’s no doubt that when the war erupted, Saudi Arabia had no choice. It was something we had to do as the other scenario was much worse. First of all militias that are categorized as terrorist militias and which we have had a negative experience with in 2009 staged a coup against legitimacy. Secondly, these militias posed a threat on international navigation and on all of Yemen’s neighbors. Thirdly, terrorist activity on the other side south of Yemen became strongly active and exploited these militias’ work. If we had waited a little bit, threats would have been more complicated and there would have been threats inside Saudi Arabia and in regional countries and on international borders and crossings. We had no other choice. I think the Saudi armed forced accomplished great achievements. When the operations began, legitimate powers’ control over Yemeni territory was almost 0 percent. Today, legitimate powers control 80 percent or 85 percent of Yemeni lands. There is another coalition in North Saudi Arabia in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS which controls part of Iraq. The coalition consists of 60 countries that have been led by the US since 2014. This was a year before we formed our alliance and they have not done anything till this day.

Meanwhile, we are only 10 countries in the region and we managed to make achievements in a lesser time-frame compared with operations, which were launched in Iraq and Syria. This is an achievement for Saudi armed forces, Yemeni forces and the coalition forces.

Q: As they have regained control over territories in Yemen, why doesn’t the legitimate authority move to Yemen?

The legitimate authority is always moving between Yemen and Saudi Arabia and it was in Aden for a long time. They always avoid having the president and the vice president both present in Yemen in order to decrease the threat of eliminating them. This is how they plan their work.

Q: There are talks about differences between Saudi Arabia and the UAE regarding Al-Islah and their role in the war and the future of Yemen. How accurate is that?

There are many rumors and enemies certainly want to spread as much rumors as possible among allies.

Q: Why are areas that are under the control of Houthis more secure and stable, like Sanaa, compared to areas controlled by the legitimate power, like Taiz and Aden?

I want [to know] your source of information. I completely doubt this.

Q: Some reports said the coalition’s intelligence information is not efficient and it is proved by the fact that Houthis and Saleh still have stock of weapons.

We can eliminate Houthis and Saleh in few days. We can mobilize Saudi ground troops and in only few days we can seize control of all areas and of the 15 percent which Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh control but as a result thousands of our troops can fall victims. There will be funerals in all Saudi cities. Yemeni civilians will also fall victims. There will be huge losses. Time is on our side. Being patient is in our interest. We have the supplies and we have the logistics and high morale. The enemy does not have supplies and funds and is impatient. Time is on our side and we will exploit the time to serve our interests. If we do not do so, it means we will have served the enemy.

Q: There have been frequent offers made by Ali Saleh. Isn’t it possible that this is the way to isolate Houthi?

Ali Abdullah Saleh has a huge dispute with Houthis and we know that he is currently under the control of Houthis and under his guardianship. If he is not under the control of the Houthi guardianship, his stance will certainly be completely different. If Ali Abdullah Saleh exits Sanaa to another area, his stance will be completely different compared to his stance today. Today, he may be obliged to adopt many of the stances.

Q: He suggested an initiative when his son came at the beginning of the war and you rejected it?

That’s true. We were trying to execute a political initiative that makes us avoid war and we were open to discussions during that phase on the condition that they do not come near Aden because if they do, it will be very difficult to discuss a political solution when Houthis are expanding in Yemen. Unfortunately, what we hoped for did not happen and we had to engage in the operations.

Q: Your Highness, regarding powers that are affiliated with the legitimate government in Yemen, and not with the rebels, why doesn’t the kingdom open lines of communication with them?

All lines are open whether for powers affiliated with the legitimacy or with powers affiliated with Ali Abdullah Saleh or even if they are affiliated with neither. More are encouraged every day.

Q: Regarding tribes in Yemen, it looks as if they did not adopt neutrality. You met the tribes, how do you see them today?

They were very enthusiastic as they hate the Houthis group a lot and want to get rid of it as quickly as possible so that they can work on projects to develop Yemen.

Q: I will go back to Egypt. Relations with Egypt were excellent then the Egyptian media began to hint that relations are about to be severed. What’s going on?

You mean the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood media? The media that criticizes Saudi Arabia or Egypt-Saudi relations is the same media that criticizes President Sisi. Egypt-Saudi relations are strong and solid. Relations with deep roots do not get affected in any way whatsoever. In the history between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two countries have always stood with each other during all circumstances and during all times and this has not changed. No negative stance has been made by the Egyptian government toward Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government did take a single negative position against the Egyptian government. Egypt was never late to help Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia was never late to help Egypt. There is a solid conviction between the leaders of the two countries or rather between people of the two countries. There is no doubt that the enemies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will try to create rumors one way or another either through Iranian propaganda or Brotherhood propaganda as they want to create a rift in Egypt-Saudi relations. The leadership in both countries do not pay attention to these.

Q: Your Highness mentioned the King Salman Bridge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Do you bet on it?

True. After the bridge was approved expert teams began working in offices and not in front of the media. The plans will be announced in detail when the foundation stone is laid. The foundation stone will certainly be laid before 2020.

Q: Islands, have you finalized the issue related to islands?

As for the islands, there was never a problem related to them.

Q: According to Egyptian media reports, this issue is in the courts.

What happened around a year ago was demarcation of maritime borders. Islands are registered in Egypt as Saudi islands are registered as Saudi islands. In international institutions, they are also registered as Saudi islands. What was finalized was demarcating maritime borders. Egypt did not give up an inch of its lands and Saudi Arabia did not up give an inch of its lands. Borders were demarcated for reasons related to economic benefits that may be made after demarcating borders or after King Salman Bridge is built or that may be made through oil supplies, gas supplies, energy supplies or the train or roads, which will target the port to be built in North Sinai and the Gulf’s exports to Europe.

Q: Can we see a direct dialogue with Iran in the future despite what it is doing in the region?

How do you communicate with someone or a regime that’s completely convinced that its system is based on an extremist ideology that relies on texts in its constitution and in Khomeini’s legacy and that stipulates that it must control Muslims in the Islamic world and spread the Twelver Jaafari sect in the Islamic world so Imam Mahdi comes. How do I convince these of anything? What interests are there between me and them? How do I communicate with them? When there’s a problem between me and another state, we begin by solving it. For example, if there’s an economic problem, we communicate and I see what you want and you see what I want and we understand how to address the problem. If, for example, it is a political problem, like the case is with Russia and how we communicate regarding Syria, we discuss what their interests are and what my interests are. How do we communicate on Yemen? We discuss interests. But with Iran, how do we communicate? Their logic is based on the notion that Imam Mahdi will come and that they must prepare the fertile environment for his arrival and they must control the Muslim world. They deprived their own people of development for more than 30 years and put them through starvation. The people have bad infrastructure because the regime only wants to achieve this aim related to Imam Mahdi. The regime will not change its mindset overnight; otherwise, its legitimacy inside Iran will come to an end. The mutual points, which we can agree on with this regime, are almost non-existent. This regime was tested during more than one phase, like during the time of Rafsanjani and everything turned out to be mere charades. The strategy of expansion was adopted after the Khomeini revolution happened. When the world got angry, they brought a peaceful leader and at the time it was Rafsanjani. They did that to gain the trust of the world and our trust. They gained our trust. After that they got to another phase of providing a good environment, an extremist leader was assigned so the expansion resumes. This is what we saw during the reign of Ahmedinejad and we saw how they expanded in Iraq, Syria and other areas. Then they’d assign another leader to maintain the gains and satisfy the rest of the world. Then they’d again assign an extremist leader to resume expansion. This will not happen. This is over. A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice. We were bitten once. We will not be bitten again. We know we are a major target for the Iranian regime. Reaching the Muslims’ qibla is a major aim for the Iranian regime. We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia but we will work so the battle is there in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.

Q: What do you think of a solution in Syria?

There is no doubt that the situation in Syria is very complicated. There’s no doubt that former American President Barack Obama wasted many significant opportunities which he could have seized to achieve great change in Syria. Syria has today become an international conflict. Russia is present there as a superpower. A superpower like the US is present. All five superpowers are present there and any friction between these superpowers may create a crisis that’s much bigger than the Middle East crisis. The situation is very complicated. Today, we are trying to come out with the biggest amount of gains in the interest of Saudi Arabia and the interests of the Syrian people and the region’s countries.


Saudi shake-up strengthens king’s powerful son – Yahoo! News

Dubai (AFP) – A recent Saudi government and security shake-up aims to strengthen King Salman’s increasingly powerful son against a royal rival and to bolster ties with Washington, analysts and diplomats say.

Royal decrees at the weekend saw a number of allies of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moved into key positions and another son of the king named as ambassador to Washington.

The goal, a foreign diplomat told AFP, is “to strengthen MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) and the Salman branch” of the al-Saud family which has ruled Saudi Arabia since the country’s founding.

Mohammed bin Salman, 31, has risen to prominence since he was named deputy crown prince two years ago, a few months after his father took the throne following the death of King Abdullah.

The king’s nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, now 57, was at the same time named crown prince and is the heir apparent.

Reports of rivalry between the two have spread since, with the bearded Mohammed bin Salman seen in the ascendant.

He already serves as defence minister, head of Saudi Arabia’s main economic policy coordinating body and chairman of a council overseeing state oil giant Aramco.

One of the weekend decrees saw the creation of a new National Security Centre linked with the royal court.

– ‘Competition’ over security –

Details of how the new centre will operate have yet to emerge, but the foreign diplomat said its creation reflects “competition” for succession between Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef, who is interior minister and heads an existing body, the Political and Security Council.

Another decree also named a new national security advisor, Mohammed bin Salih Alghfaili, who foreign diplomats say will play a lead role on the council.

He too is linked with Mohammed bin Salman and the new arrangement shows that the crown prince “is losing his power,” a second foreign diplomat said.

Both diplomats declined to be named because of the sensitivity of royal leadership matters.

Another decree named Major General Ahmed Assiri, who the diplomats said is also a loyalist of the defence minister, as deputy chief of the General Intelligence Presidency.

Peter Salisbury, a research fellow at London’s Chatham House, told AFP that the various moves appear “a lot like Mohammed bin Salman has taken another step towards consolidating his control over the security services”.

Security matters are especially important to Mohammed bin Nayef, who made his name and won wide respect abroad for having led Saudi efforts against Al-Qaeda and other jihadists.

Analysts and diplomats said other moves made at the weekend appeared aimed not only at boosting King Salman’s branch among the thousands-strong royal family but at continuing to improve ties with longtime ally Washington.

King Salman named another son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, as state minister for energy affairs, and one more, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as ambassador to Washington.

– Building US ties –

The new ambassador Prince Khaled, believed to be younger than 30, is a former fighter pilot who flew missions as part of the US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Another change saw Fahad bin Turki, a former head of the Saudi special forces, promoted to lieutenant general to head the army.

These appointments appear to involve people “well-placed… to build relationships with senior military and administration officials in the US,” Salisbury said.

Ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.

Riyadh has found a more favourable ear in the Washington of President Donald Trump, who has echoed Saudi concerns about Iranian influence in the region.

Mohammed bin Salman met Trump in Washington last month, a visit followed last week by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’s trip to Riyadh.

Key for Riyadh will be US support for the Saudi-led coalition that for two years has been fighting in support of Yemen’s government against rebels supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

The United States has backed the coalition with intelligence, weapons, and aerial refuelling for its warplanes, but Obama’s government in December blocked the transfer of precision-guided bombs because of concerns over civilian casualties.

Under Obama, “things were really bad” between the two countries, the second diplomat said.

Saudi officials realised that “they cannot survive on their own” and must depend on American security support, he said.


A young prince is reimagining Saudi Arabia. Can he make his vision come true? – The Washington Post

Two years into his campaign as change agent in this conservative oil kingdom, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be gaining the confidence and political clout to push his agenda of economic and social reform.

The young prince outlined his plans in a nearly 90-minute conversation Tuesday night at his office here. Aides said it was his first lengthy on-the-record interview in months. He offered detailed explanations about foreign policy, plans to privatize oil giant Saudi Aramco, strategy for investment in domestic industry, and liberalization of the entertainment sector, despite opposition from some religious conservatives.

Mohammed bin Salman said that the crucial requirement for reform is public willingness to change a traditional society. “The most concerning thing is if the Saudi people are not convinced. If the Saudi people are convinced, the sky is the limit,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Change seems increasingly desired in this young, restless country. A recent Saudi poll found that 85 percent of the public, if forced to choose, would support the government rather than religious authorities on policy matters, said Abdullah al-Hokail, the head of the government’s public opinion center. He added that 77 percent of those surveyed supported the government’s “Vision 2030” reform plan, and that 82 percent favored music performances at public gatherings attended by men and women. Though these aren’t independently verified numbers, they do indicate the direction of popular feeling, which Saudis say is matched by anecdotal evidence.

“MBS,” as the deputy crown prince is known, said that he was “very optimistic” about President Trump. He described Trump as “a president who will bring America back to the right track” after Barack Obama, whom Saudi officials mistrusted. “Trump has not yet completed 100 days, and he has restored all the alliances of the U.S. with its conventional allies.”

A sign of the kingdom’s embrace of the Trump administration was the visit here this weekby U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. While the Obama administration had criticized the Saudi war in Yemen, Mattis discussed the possibility of additional U.S. support if the Houthi insurgents there don’t agree to a U.N.-brokered settlement. (I traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of the press corps accompanying Mattis.)

Mohammed bin Salman has been courting Russia, as well as the United States, and he offered an intriguing explanation of Saudi Arabia’s goal in this diplomacy. “The main objective is not to have Russia place all its cards in the region behind Iran,” he said. To convince Russia that Riyadh is a better bet than Tehran, the Saudis have been “coordinating our oil policies recently” with Moscow, he said, which “could be the most important economic deal for Russia in modern times.”

There’s less apparent political tension than a year ago, when many analysts saw a rivalry between Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is officially next in line for the throne but is less prominent than his cousin. Whatever the succession proves to be, the deputy crown prince appears to be firmly in control of Saudi military strategy, foreign policy and economic planning. He has gathered a team of technocrats who are much younger and more activist than the kingdom’s past leadership.

Reform plans appear to be moving ahead slowly but steadily. Mohammed bin Salman said that the budget deficit had been cut; non-oil revenue increased 46 percent from 2014 to 2016 and is forecast to grow another 12 percent this year. Unemployment and housing remain problems, he said, and improvement in those areas isn’t likely until between 2019 and 2021.

The biggest economic change is the plan to privatize about 5 percent of Saudi Aramco, which Mohammed bin Salman said will take place next year. This public offering would probably raise hundreds of billions of dollars and be the largest such sale in financial history. The exact size of the offering will depend on financial-market demand and the availability of good options for investing the proceeds, he told me. The rationale for selling a share of the kingdom’s oil treasure is to raise money to diversify the economy away from reliance on energy. One priority is mining, which would tap an estimated $1.3 trillion in potential mineral wealth.

The Saudi official listed other investment targets: creating a domestic arms industry, reducing the $60 billion to $80 billion the kingdom spends annually to buy weapons abroad; producing automobiles in Saudi Arabia to replace the roughly $14 billion the government spends annually for imported vehicles; and creating domestic entertainment and tourism industries to capture some of the $22 billion that Saudis spend traveling overseas each year.


The entertainment industry is a proxy for the larger puzzle of how to unlock the Saudi economy. Changes have begun. A Japanese orchestra that included women performed here this month, before a mixed audience of men and women. A Comic Con took place in Jeddah recently, with young men and women dressing up as characters from the TV show “Supernatural” and other favorites. Comedy clubs feature sketch comedians (but no female stand-up comics, yet).

These options are a modest revolution for a Saudi Arabia where the main entertainment venues, until recently, were restaurants and shopping malls. The modern world, in all its raucousness, is coming, for better or worse. King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh hosted a Monster Jam last month with souped-up trucks. There are plans for a Six Flagstheme park south of Riyadh.

Maya al-Athel, one of the dozens of young people hatching plans at the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, said in an interview that she’d like to bring a Museum of Ice Cream, like one she found in New York, to the kingdom.

“We want to change the culture,” said Ahmed al-Khatib, a former investment banker who’s chairman of the entertainment authority. His target is to create six public entertainment options every weekend for Saudis. But the larger goal, he said, is “spreading happiness” in what has sometimes been a somber country.

The instigator of this attempt to reimagine the kingdom is the 31-year-old deputy crown prince. With his brash demeanor, he’s the opposite of the traditional Bedouin reserve of past Saudi leaders. Unlike so many Saudi princes, he wasn’t educated in the West, which may have preserved the raw combative energy that is part of his appeal for young Saudis.

The trick for Mohammed bin Salman is to maintain the alliance with the United States, without seeming to be America’s puppet. “We have been influenced by you in the U.S. a lot,” he said. “Not because anybody exerted pressure on us — if anyone puts pressure on us, we go the other way. But if you put a movie in the cinema and I watch it, I will be influenced.” Without this cultural nudge, he said, “we would have ended up like North Korea.” With the United States as a continuing ally, “undoubtedly, we’re going to merge more with the world.”

Mohammed bin Salman is careful when he talks about religious issues. So far, he has treated the religious authorities as allies against radicalism rather than cultural adversaries. He argues that extreme religious conservatism in Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent phenomenon, born in reaction to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni radicals later that year.

“I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young,” he said. “We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era,” he concluded. “That age is over.”


Saudis to shelve projects worth ‘billions of dollars’ as cheap oil bites – report – PressTV

Saudi Arabia has reportedly canceled or restructured economic and infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars.

Reuters in a report quoted government sources as saying that the Saudi government had ordered ministries and organizations to review the projects to either scrap or make them more efficient.

The report added that most of the projects that had been targeted were those that had been devised during lavish government spending buoyed by crude oil prices above $100 per barrel.

However, they would no longer be cost-efficient with oil at below $55 per barrel.

Riyadh’s Bureau of Capital and Operational Spending Rationalization is now assessing the projects that are under 25 percent complete, the sources told Reuters.

“Some projects could be retendered so they can be executed in partnership with the private sector, possibly through build-operate-transfer (BOT) contracts,” one source familiar with the plan told the agency.

“Other projects could be suspended if they do not meet the current economic objectives,” the source said.

The finances of Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest crude producer after Russia and largest oil exporter, have been hit by a downturn in oil prices that were above $100 a barrel in 2014, but start to plunge to well below $40 in 2016.

The plunge in global oil prices prompted Riyadh to rein in public spending in a bid to save money. The kingdom’s economic measures are being led by Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud.

Earlier last year, the Riyadh regime cancelled financial perks for public sector employees and slashed salaries of ministers and members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, also known as the Shura Council.

It further froze major building projects and made unprecedented cuts to fuel and utilities subsidies.

Interesting Facts About Saudi Arabia’s Planned “Entertainment City” – Forbes

Saudi Arabia is looking into new ways of diversifying its financial revenues by establishing non-oil projects, which fall into its long-term 2030 vision.

The latest of plans to be revealed is the building of a new entertainment city that is set to be the kingdom’s largest “quality cultural, sports and entertainment” venue in the city of Al Qidiya, which lies southwest of the capital Riyadh.

The announcement as reported by the Saudi state news agency, SPA, was made by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

“The new city will become, by God’s will, a prominent cultural landmark and an important center for meeting the future generation’s recreational, cultural and social needs in the Kingdom,” Prince Mohammed was quoted as saying by SPA.

“This pioneering and most ambitious project in the Kingdom comes within the framework of plans to support the vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2030 by creating quality and distinctive investments within the Kingdom that serve the country and the citizens,” the Crown Prince added.

The project eyes creating more jobs for Saudi nationals, SPA reported.

We take you through the most important fact regarding the project:

  • Construction of the project is set to commence in 2018, with the first stage to be inaugurated in 2020, according to SPA.
  • The project will be built on an area of 334 kilometer-square in Al Qidiya.
  • The project is set to include four main sectors; entertainment, motor sports, sports, housing and hospitality.
  • The project will host a number of fashion retail and shopping centers, as well as food courts and recreational areas.
  • The project will include an area for safari excursions and touristic resorts.
  • The project will include water parks and a Six Flags theme park
  • The Public Investment Fund is the main investor of the project, in addition to undisclosed “local” and “foreign” investors.
  • The project will include a number of hotels and other housing buildings, and will include a track for autos-ports and auto-drome events.


Saudi Deputy CP launches major cultural, recreational city – KUNA

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the board chairman of the Public Investment Fund, announced Friday the launch of the largest quality, cultural, sports and entertainment city in the Kindgdom of Saudi Arabia.

The project called Al-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh, is the first of its kind in the world with an area of 334 square kilometers, including a major Safari area, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The city will become, by God’s will, a prominent cultural landmark, and an important center for meeting the future generation’s recreational, cultural and social needs in the Kingdom, SPA quoted the Deputy Crown Prince as saying in a Press Release.

This pioneering and most ambitious project in the Kingdom comes within the framework of plans to support the vision of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2030 by creating quality and distinctive investments within the Kingdom that serve the country and the citizens.

It also contributes to diversifying the source of national income, boosts Saudi economy and creates more job opportunities for the young people, he said.

He noted the Public Investment Fund is the main investor in the project, along with a number of local and international investors, which supports the Kingdom’s position as an important international center in attracting foreign investments.

The project, the foundation stone of which is to be laid early next year and the opening of its first phase will be in 2022, will make a qualitative leap in the Kingdom and support the country’s vision aimed at achieving more prosperity and progress for society and raising the level of services in the capital Riyadh to become one of the top 100 cities for living in the world.

The project is an important incentive to attract visitors as the capital of future adventures and will be their first and preferred choice for offering a number of carefully chosen and selected activities, designed with the latest international standards to achieve a healthy and harmonious life, and provide entertainment, joy and fun, he went on.

The project is expected to include the entertainment city of Six Flags as one of the main attractions of the project.


Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Lebanese Prime Minister – Al-Arabiya

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, met in his office in Riyadh on Wednesday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The meeting reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries as well as latest developments in the Middle East, a statement released by the Saudi Press Agency said.


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Quote by the Prince

"We seek to be proud of our country, and allow the latter to contribute to the development of the world, whether on the economic, environmental, civilisational, or intellectual levels."

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