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‘Returning to what we used to be’: Crown prince tells investors Saudi Arabia will ‘eradicate extremism’

The prince said Saudi Arabia would be open to the world and all religions, in a stunning speech in Riyadh

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017. The Crown Prince pledged a “moderate, open” Saudi Arabia, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth. “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he said at the economic forum in Riyadh. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

It was a comment that stunned the people in the room.

At an event Tuesday in Riyadh meant to highlight the kingdom’s influence in the business world, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Saudi Arabia was returning to “moderate” Islam and intended to “eradicate” extremism.

This in a country that was founded on an austere form of Islam and has been defined by it for decades. The remarks seemed aimed at religious ultra-conservatives who have been tolerated by the ruling Al Saud family in exchange for their support.

“We are only returning to what we used to be, to moderate Islam, open to the world and all religions,” the 32-year-old prince said at the conference in the capital. “We won’t waste 30 years of our lives dealing with any extremist ideas. We will eradicate extremism.”

The remarks made by the kingdom’s predominant leader were his strongest statements to date that the country’s founding precepts aren’t working. They came as he added to a host of reform promises by announcing plans to build a new city on the Red Sea coast with more than $500 billion in investments that will offer a lifestyle not available in today’s Saudi Arabia. It’s part of efforts he’s spearheading to prepare Saudi Arabia for the post-oil era.


HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Appoints Dr. Kleinfeld as NEOM CEO

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, October 24, 2017/PRNewswire/. PIF announced the appointment of Dr. Klaus Kleinfeld, the former Chairman and CEO of Alcoa and Arconic Inc. as CEO of NEOM.

NEOM, was announced today by HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Chairman of the Founding Board for NEOM. It will be backed by more than $500 billion over the coming years by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Public Investment Fund, local as well as international investors.

The appointment of Dr. Kleinfeld underlines the ambition of the Kingdom. NEOM was born from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to see the country develop into a pioneering and thriving model of excellence in various and important areas of life. NEOM stretches over 26,500 km2 of land and extends across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering NEOM the first special economic zone to span three countries.

Dr. Kleinfeld is a globally respected business leader who, most recently, was the former Chairman and CEO of Alcoaand Arconic, the global leaders in the aluminium industry as well as multi-material precision engineered products and solutions. Before Alcoa, Dr. Kleinfeld enjoyed a 20-year career with Siemens, the global electronics and industrial conglomerate, where he also served as chief executive officer.

“NEOM will be constructed from the ground-up, on greenfield sites. Future technologies form the cornerstone of NEOM’s development. All this will allow for a new way of life to emerge. Dr. Kleinfeld has a track record in leading some of the world’s most dynamic, advanced and best-performing businesses and we believe these skills and his leadership will ensure NEOM’s success”, said His HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“NEOM is a unique opportunity to combine highest levels of liveability with excellent economic prospects. I am honored and excited to take on this leadership role”, commented Dr. Kleinfeld.

Dr. Kleinfeld is also an Honorary Trustee of the Brookings Institute and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is an Honorary Senator of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting and on the Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum. For many years Dr. Kleinfeld was a member of the Chinese Premier Li’s Global CEO Advisory Council, a member of the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders Advisory Council and a member of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of Russia. Dr. Kleinfeld also served for many years on the board of Bayer, Morgan Stanley and Hewlett Packard.

Source: Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund


Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia: We will eradicate extremism very soon (Video)


Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud reveals plans for new future proofed city in Saudi Arabia

Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, crown prince, deputy prime minister, chairman of the Council of Economic & Development Affairs and chairman of the Public Investment Fund, took the stage at the Future Investment Initiative today to launch a ground-breaking new initiative that will establish a new urban ecosystem stretching 21,500 sq. km along the north west Red Sea coast of the Kingdom.

The new project, entitled ‘NEOM’, will seek to maximise the natural advantages the area has for wind and solar energy, and is being supported by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, led by former Alcoa and Siemens chief executive, Klaus Kleinfield.

Partners from leading technology companies are being called to join the innovative project, with public backing already secured from robotics experts Boston Dynamics.

In outlining the NEOM plan, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman said: “There will be many opportunities, but we will work only with the dreamers – people who want to create something new in the world.”

Touching on the radical nature of the plan, the crown prince suggested that the new development will be as transformative to cities as the smartphone was to telephones.

He also stressed the pivotal role the citizens of Saudi Arabia will play in ensuring the success of this project, referring to them as “the most important asset we have”.

Regarding the NEOM project, Softbank chairman Masayoshi Son called it a fantastic opportunity which would create “the largest and most advanced generation of robots in the world”.

Marc Raibert from Boston Dynamics spoke confidently on how NEOM can be a testbed for the successful implementation of a range of technologies, as well as a key factor in pulling smart robotics forward.

Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman called the project “transformational”.

New chief executive of the project Klaus Kleinfield promised the technology industry that NEOM will be a “beautiful and natural place” for the best and the brightest to make their mark for generations to come.

In this regard, Kleinfield committed to a collaborative process in the development of regulatory systems that will work for, and adapt to, new technologies, including drones, artificial intelligence and the internet of things.

He suggested that the new development will be a “magnet for talent”.

Organised by Public Investment Fund, the Future Investment Initiative is taking take place in Riyadh from October 24th-26th.

The invitation-only event is being organised in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a blueprint that is already charting the path for the Kingdom to harness its strategic location and strong investment capabilities.


Muhammad bin Salman … rights holders shout we want solutions

INVESTORS from Saudi Arabia, Gulf, Arab and foreign countries are relieved after the arrest of a Saudi billionaire of Kuwaiti origin — Maan Al-Sanea; because this is the first important step towards realization of ‘Vision 2030’ on developing the Kingdom’s economy and putting it on the right path.

This also reassures Saudis that their rights are preserved and are not subject to those using their influence, connections or titles to deprive others of their rights.

Talking to MBC Satellite Channel a few months ago, the engineer of this audacious vision — Saudi’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman — asserted, “There is no way out for anyone involved in corruption, whether he is a prince or a minister … As long as there is enough evidence, that person will be prosecuted.”

This is the position in protecting Saudi’s public wealth and rights of the people. It is based on the principle anchored by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz since the start of his reign.

King Salman once said, “Our doors are open. Anyone with the right will take it even if it is from the king himself.” He reiterated this a few weeks ago, affirming that the Kingdom spares no effort, in its transitional stage to the fourth State, to prevent transgressions on people’s rights by using titles or influence or any other means.

Naturally, this issue does not progress outside the judicial course so it is imperative to complete its episodes. This is what happened to the case of billionaire Al-Sanea who thought he could get away from paying accumulated debts which reached 36 billion Saudi Riyals (slightly over $9.1 billion).

His case continued for almost six years as he stalled and evaded payment, until the order was issued by Saudi’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to end this series. Some cases are still pending despite going through and completing judicial procedures that are yet to be enforced like Al-Sanea’s case.

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman ordered quick arrest of Al-Sanea. We hope this move will end the era of corrupt individuals or those who avoid returning the rights of people.

It is time to fortify rights, ensure equality and justice, and prevent anyone from violating laws and benefiting from his connections to escape from the country in spite of the travel ban imposed on them. They are the ones you will find hanging out in cafés in London, Paris or Beirut.

The lawsuit against Al-Sanea, prior to the execution of the sentence imposed on him; reminded me of the Egyptian film, ‘Oreedo Halla’ or ‘I Need a Solution,’ in which the claimant reached a locked passage when he cannot obtain his right under the pretext that the residence of the criminal who took advantage of his relations with police and some officials was unknown. In the end, the claimant failed to witness execution of the verdict issued in his favor and his right was wasted.

In Saudi Arabia, the conditions have changed and the last six years witnessed many of those shouting, “I need a solution,” due to the complicated relations of the influential including some rank holders, princes and rich who used to avoid giving the rights they owe to others. This step ended with the arrest of Al-Sanea who was hiding on the roof of a deserted building which is part of his lofty palace.

When Al-Sanea was arrested, his lawyer said: “We are ready to pay the money we owe.” This proves that avoidance and delay in giving rights to others were deliberate.

Revising the properties of Al-Sanea, including his marvelous palace, is a clear manifestation that he was pretending to be suffering from troubles.

The lawsuit was a source of worry for Saudi, Emirati, Kuwaiti and Gulf banks and companies which signed contracts with the man who took advantage of the trust that Al-Qusaibi family bestowed on him, because of affinity, to manage the family’s properties according to general authorizations and then he resorted to delaying payment of debts.

It is extremely necessary to publish the details of this issue to inform the public as the development unfolds.

It would serve as a beginning towards executing many other cases that are still collecting dust inside the drawers to the lackluster attitude or any other unknown reason.

His Highness the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is working to brighten the country’s economic future through promises of freedom of investment, should pay attention to this.

If 2030 partially means attracting foreign investments then it is necessary that those capitals flowing into the kingdom are seriously protected with the power of law and rights of investors by quickly issuing verdicts without any delay.

It should not be a replica of the case of Al-Sanea who avoids paying debts which will be a source of concern and discourage investors.

This is because the continuity of such ‘open files’ will instill fear into the hearts of entrepreneurs and rightful owners. They will either refuse to pump the capital into the local market or deliberately move their money out of the country and invest it elsewhere in a safe place.

In contrast, this will also lead to lack of confidence in the banking, financial and investment sectors.

However, if the verdicts are issued on time the mindset of banks and financial institutions will change towards the Saudi market which currently needs huge investments to ensure success of ‘Vision 2030’ engineered by the young Saudi economist.


Russia-Saudi Arabia: A “Triumphant” Breakthrough

Ten days have passed since Saudi King’s “historic visit” to Russia. The euphoria over King Salman bin-Abdul-Aziz al-Saud’s first visit to Moscow in history of the two countries has gradually faded away. The king arrived with an impressive escort, successfully exchanged friendly greetings at the highest level and signed multi-billion contracts, part of which will be hard to implement, specifically, the ones in the field of military and technical cooperation.

The sides signed one definite contract and several preliminary ones. In particular, manufacturing of Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifle and its bullets will be set up in Saudi Arabia. “Memorandum” component of the contracts suggests acquisition and further localization (different degree of localization) of production of TOS-1A Solntsepyok multiple rocket launcher, Kornet-EM anti-tank guided missile system and AGS-30 automatic grenade launchers.

Before the Saudi monarch’s visit, the Russian military announced preparation of an arms deal worth about $3.5 billion. Even taking into account Riyadh’s request for supply and localization of the above weapons, it is hard to imagine the deal worth three billion dollars, unless it comprises S400 Triumph surface-to-air missile systems (SAM).

Little is known about the deal so far. Referring to sources in country’s military industrial field, some Russian mass media report that like Turkey, Saudi Arabia is supposed to receive four divisions of S-400 Triumph SAM for $2-$2.5 billion.

Unlike Turks, Saudis do not seek to localize/assembly S-400 SAM in their territory. They not just lack necessary technological and human resources, they do not want to launch a decades-long process of developing own capacities to produce highly technological military products.

Last Friday, on October 13, the Kremlin reported that final talks of Russia and Saudi Arabia on S-400 Triumph SAM are nearing completion. President’s aide for military and technical cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin said the sides would reach an agreement shortly. Such prompt agreement is impressing, considering that it took Russia and its Chinese partners more than three years to sign a contract (in Sept 2014) for supply of four divisions of S-400 Triumph systems.

There are two reasons behind such prompt talks with Saudis. First, Russia has become more experienced in holding talks on S-400 SAM and can easily pass the main phases. Second, Saudis have requested only sale of the systems and their possible maintenance by Russian specialists.

Moscow is happy with the contract with Saudis, who unlike Turks do not demand localization and technologies. At the same time, Russia sees too much political motives behind the contracts with both Saudi Arabia and Turkey. S-400 SAM is not a priority goal for Saudis to upgrade their defense capacity. It was a good chance to make U.S. worry.

On October 6, on the second day of King Al-Saud’s visit to Moscow, the United States approved an impressive, $15-billion deal for sale of THAAD (1) anti-tank defense systems by Saudi Arabia. Evidently, Saudis need American air defense systems more than Russian SAMs. Riyadh needs defense in depth against ballistic missiles that can be launched only from Yemen’s regions controlled by pro-Iranian Hussite rebels. A direct confrontation with Iran in future is possible as well.

The known formula of Saudi Arabia “do not sell to Iran, we will buy everything” has undergone certain changes. Now, Riyadh is acting in a more delicate manner. It no longer says Moscow “do not sell to Tehran”; it recommends itself as a more “easy going” partner in the field of military-technical cooperation. Red tape and detailed analysis of domestic demand for arms of foreign producers is widely practiced in Iran, whereas a small group of people in Saudi Arabia decides whether to buy arms from other countries. For the time being, the final decision rests upon Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We buy promptly and pay at market price,” Saudis say. Such a partner is a real pick up for a producer of weapons and military equipment. However, for Russia Iran is a geopolitical partner in current interstate relations in the Middle East. Russia has never had just commercial relations with it. With the Russian arms deal Saudis seek to “harm” Iran, which is a kind of challenge to Moscow.

This reminds a similar situation in the South Caucasus. Russia has a military union with Armenia and a large-scale arms business with Azerbaijan. That South Caucasian “Saudi Arabia” also seeks to gain advantage of Russia’s only ally in the South Caucasus. “We make prompt decisions and pay at market price,” Baku echoes Saudis. In such conflict of interests, Russia has to find a balance and keep it constantly.

To distract Russia from military and technical cooperation with Iran, Saudi Arabia settles a series of specific tasks, including arms deal with Moscow for 2021, the period of international embargo (five years) on supply of weapons and military hardware to Iran in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2231 dated July 20, 2015.

Besides, the Kingdom needs to understand Russia’s stance on the processes in Syria and Middle East that are of priority importance for it.

De-escalation zones in Syria are created by three foreign actors: Russia, Turkey and Iran. Jaysh al-Islam (“Army of Islam”), currently the closest partner of Saudi Arabia and vociferous opponent of Syrian government, operates in one of the de-escalation zones. Moscow is more and more convinced that the group is “moderate.” At least, leaders of Jaysh al-Islam are permanent participants of Astana meetings on Syria. Therefore, Saudis will contribute to Russia and Jaysh al-Islam to reach an arrangement.

Meantime, Iran seeks military buildup in Syria’s Damascus Province, which will mean a serious geopolitical failure for Saudis Arabia, Israel and U.S. A “threat” of a permanent military facility of Shiite Iran in an Arab state makes Riyadh rely not only on Jaysh al-Islam and its anti-Iranian alliance with U.S. and Israel, but also on Russia as potential counterweight to Iran and Syria.

Riyadh believes that Moscow and Tehran have little chances to “coexist” on the limited military and political zone near Damascus. Consequently, it does not demand immediate overthrow of Bashar al-Assad not to make Assad “rush into the arms” of Iran instead of Russia. In such case, an Iranian base near Damascus may become for the Syrian president one of the major guarantees of his power and personal security.

C-400 deal is a resource to create a trustworthy dialogue with Russia, not to upgrade its military capacity. What Iran, Qatar and other rivals of Saudi Arabia cannot afford now is affordable to Riyadh, including financially.

Nevertheless, Russia will hardly manage to occupy a niche in the solvent arms market of Saudi Arabia that is packed with Russia’s opponents. Wedging into the ties of U.S. and European NATO countries with Saudi Kingdom with a bounce is a very hard, if not unachievable, task. So, such breakthroughs are not needed. Saudis used S-400 Triumph as a “bait” to achieve their geopolitical goals. The same should do Russia in such situation. A weighted approach and pragmatic assessment without infringing the interests of Iran and other partners in the Middle East seems the only right choice for Russia.

(1) Department of State approved sale of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia. Earlier, Saudi Arabia requested 44 THAAD launchers, 360 THAAD interceptor missiles, 16 mobile fire-control and communication stations, and seven THAAD radars TPY-2. The sale will also include 43 trucks, generators, electrical power units, and other equipment, as well as technical documentation, staff training, maintenance and logistic support by contractor etc.

Washington says the project will help providing security to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf against Iran and other regional threats.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman: A Man with a Vision

If recent news these past few months is anything to go by, Saudi Arabia, under the newly appointed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, is trying to change from a country rooted in Wahhabi Islam and oil wealth to one that is economically diversified and modernizing both law and practice. The most recent sign of this progressive sentiment is the upliftment of one of Saudi’s most controversial bans in existence since 1957: a law which prevented women from driving. This dramatic shift arrives shortly after a summer of internal and external shakeups following the initiation of an ambitious diplomatic boycott against Qatar, effectively placing the future of Gulf unity at risk.

However, like many other religiously governed countries, Saudi has been a top contender for cultural revolution, a change that has actively been endorsed by Salman. Described as the ‘man who is trying to overturn tradition’, the 32-year-old prince is deeply committed to carrying out major reforms. To his supporters, he is the embodiment of a newly envisioned Saudi Arabia – many are seeing this as a first attempt to break away from archaic traditions and customs that no longer pertain to the Saudis of the 21st century. The emphasis on tradition, however, rests heavily on Saudi’s place in Islamic theology, or rather Islamic theology’s place in Saudi Arabia and its Hijaz region; both the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed and the cradle of Islam.

However, now that women will find themselves behind the wheel, the public is asking what’s next for the Islamic Kingdom? Can the public relationsteams hired by the Kingdom in every major capital in the West sever the link in people’s minds between these positive internal reforms and the young royal’s hawkish foreign policy in the region – a reputation he gained from leading the intervention in Yemen, which has turned into a humanitarian and public relations disaster.


Secretary of Defense Ash Carter poses for a photo with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman as he arrives at the Pentagon June 16, 2016.

Preceding his ascension to the throne, Salman was known at home and abroad as the champion of an economic revival program known as ‘Vision 2030’,  consisting of a plan to diversify Saudi’s economy from its heavy reliance on oil, stimulate the private sector and roll back public expenses. The Prince’s domestic endeavors have been accompanied by a determination to take on the role of leadership in the Sunni Arab world, which the aftermath of the Arab Spring forced Egypt to forfeit. Yet the question which has always concerned Saudi Arabia remains: how to reconcile a deeply conservative Islamic state apparatus with the mounting pressures of modernization and economic downturn?

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy whose identity is deeply tied to a puritanical Salafist tradition, and oil. Since its unification in 1932, the kings and princes who ruled Saudi Arabia combined their resources and religious authority, by virtue of their guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites Mecca and Medina, to mount their authority over the Kingdom and on the Sunni Arab world.

With a domestic population of more than 30 million that pays no tax, Saudi’s Treasury depends on oil sales for more than 90% of its revenue. However, sharp declines in global oil prices, from more than $100/barrel to $30/barrel in 2016, was largely contributed by Saudi’s ruinous policy of maintaining excessive levels of production. This left the oil giant in a precarious position with a budget deficit of $100 billion, and $390 billion in lost profits, in 2016 alone.

With the oil market in crisis back in 2016, Saudi rulers took to cutting subsidies, imposing taxes, laying off swaths of government employees, and putting public assets on the market, including privatizing parts of state oil giant, Aramco. But the transition to a more balanced economy is proving to be a challenge. The problem with Saudi oil is that it’s an addiction, and as with any addiction, it’s hard to create substitutes.

The Kingdom’s entire economy is built on a platform of massive state employment and reliance on low-wage foreign labor. In addition to Saudi’s public sector being funded by income from natural reserves, the nation’s wealth is expended generously on the military and across the region to maintain stability and undo uprisings.

As Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a Washington Institute Fellow explains: “Oil income has been like the superglue between the Saudi government and Saudi citizens […] With this glue beginning to melt away, it opens up a whole situation that […] they’ve never been in before.”

Tampering with this adhesive presents a huge challenge for the Prince in his attempt to pull Saudi Arabia into a new age of radical economic reform and openness, because it creates a new social contract for Saudi citizens raised in a culture of ‘cradle-to-grave benefits’.

Another challenge with Saudi lies in its demographics. More than 60% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30, and many are unemployed and increasingly aggrieved by a social regime that imposes strict religious restrictions.

Like many of their Arab counterparts, young Saudis are no exceptions in taking their plight and frustrations to social media platforms. Unemployment found its Twitter hashtag when a Saudi doctor posted a video of himself burning his degree, prompting the #BurnYourDegree campaign. Compounding the situation are the hundreds of thousands of Saudis who return home to disillusionment after having spent years living in the West pursuing higher education. In the past, discontent could be subdued through the ‘cash-for-loyalty’ social contract where benefits and subsidies created an incentive to keep silent. However, there is circulating fear regarding the full consequence of Salman’s approach to scaling back on benefits and loyalties, which has mediated generations of Saudis and their state.

One difference between Saudi society and that of Egypt and Tunisia, and which became apparent during the Arab Spring, is that public displays of anger, street protest and social unrest are not tolerated. Most Saudis accept that “reforms are granted by the King, not won through agitation, organization and direct action”. But rather than wait for societal issues to be dealt with one by one, economic reforms are the platform for societal restructuring, which is not only implicit, but necessary.

“Their economic reform plans imply major changes in the economic basis of the relationship with citizens, and potentially also to the traditional partnership between ruling family and clerics,” says senior research fellow at Chatham House Jane Kinninmont.

With economic reform representing the basis of Salman’s vision, where new development and measures seek to encourage a more active citizenry, change happening in the economic and development sectors will inevitably widen the sphere of possibilities for Saudis, stimulating ‘independent thinking and a more entrepreneurial spirit. Both of these will have to overcome the obstacle of religious conservatism. A vision which advocates self-reliance, women entering the workforce, growth in entertainment and the private sector, and making the price of oil “irrelevant” to the Saudi economy, cannot be expected to materialize in isolation from societal norms and practice. In other words, the Crown Prince is using economic crises to bend conservative opposition towards a Saudi Arabia with greater opportunities for women and the youth.

However, it is not to say that modernizing one’s economy should necessarily come with a social liberalization that resembles that of Western societies – nor should it be the case. Kinninmont said, “While Saudi Arabia is never going to be Dubai, the UAE model of social liberalization without political liberalization is one that influences the debate across the region,”

But one should not forget the power of the religiously conservative in Saudi Arabia, the clerics who make policy based on their interpretation of Sharia Law. For instance, when the state-run General Entertainment Authority hosted the Kingdom’s first ever Comic Con in Jeddah, the former imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, called the Kingdom’s entertainment splurge a violation of human nature. The outrage was echoed by tens of thousands of social media users expressing disapproval, one such user @YusraRazan, lamenting: “Our heroes on the southern border are sacrificing their lives […] to protect the country and fools are dancing around and performing shameful acts”.

At the end of the day, “modernity is more than music and driving”. It’s one thing to lift a ban on women driving and stage a few pop shows, quite another to advance reforms that will usher in a new age for Saudi youth and transform society in the process.

It is not clear yet whether this new ruler, close in age to the majority of the Kingdom’s youthful citizens, will succeed in his ambitious project, particularly if “on the one hand he’s expanding social and economic freedoms that are popular among Saudi Youth, [and] on the other hand, he’s narrowing space for civil society […] to criticize his reforms.” Hence, the prince must pursue the path of modernization but avoid autocratic impulses to suppress and stifle his opponents. As Andrew Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute put it, “It’s essentially autocratic liberalization.”

Edited by Shivang Mahajan


Saudi Arabia: A kingdom full of youth

With the appointment of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, vertical transition — the transfer of power from father to son — has been restored in Saudi Arabia, granting the kingdom vitality and stability.

Most monarchs across the world follow this trend, mostly due to the fact that horizontal transition — that is, from brother to brother — has a tendency to sow instability and cause friction within the ruling family.

For over a century, transition of power in Saudi Arabia has been an affair among the offspring of the kingdom’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud —until Mohammad bin Salman dramatically, yet peacefully and consensually, broke the streak. The shift was welcomed by senior princes who work to safeguard the continuity of the ruling system.

It is fitting that a young person be groomed to take the helm in a country in which 65 percent of the population is under the age of 29. Policies the young prince has championed reflect the sensibilities and aspirations of the country’s youthful majority. Saudi youth tend to be more open-minded toward contemporary global norms.

They also respect contemporary approaches to governance — such as the use of performance indicators, a mainstay of Mohammad bin Salman’s “Vision 2030.”

Before Prince Mohammad bin Salman became heir apparent, a question was often posed: What happens to the regime when the founding father’s offspring all pass away? This question no longer bears the same importance, as the entire structure of the ruling authority has changed.

The international community has come to accept Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his visions as compatible with positive reforms in the region and a peaceful international order

Turki Aldakhil

Now the Prince will do his utmost to safeguard the third historical epoch in modern Saudi history, and populate government with new talent. A young government in partnership with its young society can develop programs, strategies, and results that achieve prosperity.

King Salman’s first cabinet in 2015 brought numerous young voices into the upper echelons of government for the first time. The Crown Prince, for his part, understands that Saudi Arabia’s youth bulge, today a source of promise and potential, will one day pose a great challenge. In 30 years, a vast swath of the population will reach retirement age all at once and require social security and added health care.

Smooth transition

The smooth transition of succession to Mohammad bin Salman should also provide assurance that a steady hand is co-navigating the region’s political and economic volatility.

Iran’s government of clerics has meanwhile been betting on the probability of a palace coup if King Salman were to appoint his son Crown Price. Now it has lost that bet. The transition was rendered smooth not only by the consensus and legitimacy offered by the Allegiance Council and senior clergy, but also with the blessing of the people. It was also enhanced by the trust and goodwill Prince Mohammad bin Salman has accrued over the past two years as a new strategy was quickly forming. He won points for granting greater authority to younger figures, and for the popularity of changes to the cabinet and leadership positions in the areas where he achieved a steering role.

Over the past two years, as the Prince began to mobilize government to implement new policies, he revealed aspects of the model of administration he prefers. As noted above, he has implemented performance indicator techniques to measure outcomes. He holds his deputies accountable, and implements swift personnel changes according to their performance.

In doing so, he sends a clear message to officials: Their only job security lies in delivering results for the population. His ministers have therefore been compelled to work harder. Each strives to impress. The energy in the cabinet manifests through the bold ideas that arise from their deliberations.

A further dimension of the Prince’s political realism and strategic decisiveness manifests in the way he has managed various foreign files, notably with respect to Qatar and Yemen. The leadership in Doha has posed successive political dilemmas to Saudi Arabia which have been accumulating for years. Prince Mohammad bin Salman has formulated a clearcut position that it is no longer acceptable to sweep these matters under the rug.

To outside observers, Saudi Arabia’s bold moves vis a vis Qatar may appear out of character. Saudi Arabia has long taken a conciliatory approach in its relationship with all its Arab neighbors, in particular the Gulf.

Confronting terrorism

In any conflict, it has always been the first to deescalate. But Qatar’s crescendoing antagonism to Saudi Arabia has become an obstacle to the latter’s vision to confront terrorism in the region. The Prince chose to turn the tables and set a new precedent in intra-GCC policy.In doing so, he has confused Qatari calculations. In the economic realm, the Prince has forged a new doctrine, built on the best practices for modern economic development that have been tested and honed in numerous countries.

He has stopped the bleeding of the national wealth, so common in patriarchal systems of authority. Within the coming years, government institutions are expected to develop into platforms sustained through taxes that are recycled into services. The Crown Prince understands that in order to normalize the practice of taxation in Saudi Arabia, a cultural process is in order to wean a spoiled society off its feeling of entitlement. It will begin with taxes on luxury items, particularly those that are also health hazards, namely cigarettes. The Prince’s ministers will be studying the psychological impact of the evolving tax regime and tweaking the rollout as required.

The international community has come to accept Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his visions as compatible with positive reforms in the region and a peaceful international order. In launching the “Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism,” he made it clear to the international community that he wants Saudi Arabia to be a principal actor in combating political doctrines that use religious slogans. These groups, in his view, have harmed the perception of Islam and Muslims.

After US President Donald Trump visited Riyadh in May, he said that the Saudis have serious plans to eradicate the roots of terrorism. The economic cost of this coalition will be high, but the young prince believes that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility to forge Muslim unity in toleran- ce, and end the dynamic that has caused Westerners to associate Islam with terrorism.

On the path to reform

In sum, decisive economic and tax reform, and decisive management of the Saudi cabinet all speak to the prince’s determination to achieve reform. The Prince realizes that there is much to change in his country. He must revitalize the society and open the public discussion to diverse voices. In establishing a government committee to develop entertainment in the kingdom, he will end the sucking of billions of Saudi riyals out of the country and into the tourist havens of Dubai and Bahrain.

A hallmark of success will be the opening of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, many Saudis hope and expect that the Crown Prince will review all the country’s most pressing social issues through a progressive lens —beginning with the cause of women’s rights.

Ending the ban on women driving will of course be a welcome step.

This article was originally published in Russian View.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.







Decoding King Salman’s visit to Moscow

The Russian leadership has been waiting for Saudi King Salman to visit Moscow for a very long time.

An official visit was first mentioned in the first half of 2015, when President Vladimir Putin, during a telephone conversation, invited the newly crowned monarch to Russia. Since then, the king’s visit has been scheduled and postponed several times. In the past six months, the date of Salman’s visit was reviewed three times: first, he was expected to be in Moscow in the middle of July, immediately after the G-20 summit in Hamburg, then in early August and, finally, in October.

When the dates for Salman’s visit to Moscow was finally confirmed, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair called the visit “historical”. This was a fully justified description as the history of Russian-Saudi relations is very dramatic.

The Soviet Union was the first country to recognise the independence of the state created by King Abdulaziz. It established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd (the name of the Saudi state until 1932) in 1926. However, when in 1938 the Soviet leadership executed its envoy to Riyadh, Karim Khakimov, who was a close friend of the Saudi king, the diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down. Relations were only re-established after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991.

As a result of this long pause in diplomatic relations, and the very difficult period of normalisation that followed, a Saudi king never visited the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation, until today. Faisal visited Moscow when he was still the foreign minister, Abdallah went there when he was the crown prince and even Salman himself visited the country when he was the emir of Riyadh, but today marks the first Saudi royal visit to Russia in history.

However, we should not expect any “breakthrough” decisions or agreements at the end of this “historic” visit. The limits of Russian-Saudi cooperation are obvious, as the two countries do not see eye to eye on many fundamental issues. They have developed economic ties over the last few decades, but these ties are not strong enough to transform the limited cooperation between the two countries into a partnership or alliance. Moreover, the export markets of Russia and Saudi Arabia are very similar, which makes it difficult for them to increase the volume of trade between the two countries any further.

Yet, Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was still right when he said during his last trip to Moscow in May 2017 that “the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia is going through one of the best moments.” In the last two years, the crown prince personally worked towards ameliorating relations between the two countries and had a certain level of success. He regularly engaged in dialogue with Moscow, and he kept the communication channels open even when Russia began its military campaign in Syria and Saudi Arabia bogged down in the Yemeni crisis. From this point of view, the current easing of tensions between the countries, in spite of their conflicting regional interests, is largely due to Mohammad bin Salman’s efforts.

The crown prince factor

In many respects, the relative normalisation of Russian-Saudi relations that we are witnessing today is the result of extreme pragmatism and willingness to repress ideological differences on both sides. Both Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and the Russian leadership have personal interests in developing the relations between the two countries.

First of all, the Saudi crown prince needs to strengthen his political position at home and he views Russia as an actor that can help him achieve this goal. When Mohammed bin Salman initiated the “Vision 2030” reforms, he signalled a change in the traditional way of life in Saudi Arabia and an exit from the country’s economic “comfort zone”. By doing this, the young crown prince risked alienating not only the Muslim clergy and the Saudi elites, but also broad sections of the Saudi population, who feared that they would bear the costs of these unpopular economic reforms.

Therefore, securing a painless transfer of power from King Salman to his son, Mohammad bin Salman, is a key issue for the kingdom at this point in time. King Salman’s authority is respected among the members of the dynasty, but it is hard to make the same claim for the crown prince, who built his political career on striking not fully established or accepted rules and reforms. As a result, the crown prince desperately needs foreign policy victories to win domestic support. So far, he failed to achieve this in the war in Yemen or in the confrontation with Qatar, but he is now hoping to show his diplomatic talent by increasing the kingdom’s cooperation with Moscow.

Undoubtedly King Salman and Vladimir Putin will be discussing the conflict in Syria during their meeting in Moscow. Russia has repeatedly stated that it highly appreciates the role Saudi Arabia played in the signing of the Cairo agreements which foresaw the establishment of a full ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. In this regard, it is likely that at the end of this meeting, Riyadh will be able to convince Moscow to guarantee seats for opposition representatives loyal to Saudi Arabia in the future Syrian government. Such a guarantee would help the crown prince to strengthen his diplomatic credentials at home.

Yemen, where Saudi Arabia still counts on Moscow’s loyalty, is no less important for Muhammad bin Salman. Since the beginning of the Saudi military operation in Yemen in March 2015, the Russian leadership has tried to refrain from categorical comments on Yemen, supporting, de facto, the efforts undertaken by Riyadh. It is now being argued that, following the meeting in Moscow, the Russian leadership will confirm its intention not to prevent the Saudis from taking further steps in resolving the Yemeni conflict, once again helping the crown prince to claim a foreign policy victory.

Moscow’s financial interests

In turn, Moscow is interested in strengthening the financial component of Russian-Saudi relations. The Russian leadership has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact that most of the agreements affecting economic, as well as military-technical cooperation remain at the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) level. The only exception to this rule is the agreement reached within the framework of OPEC on the reduction of oil production and stabilisation of oil prices.

In Moscow, it is expected that King Salman’s visit will put an end to the era of non-committal agreements.The parties are expected to sign the first contract for the supply of Russian arms to Saudi Arabia. The general terms of this $3.5bn contract were agreed upon this summer.

Another project in which the Russian authorities are interested, maybe the participation of Russia’s Rosneft in the partial privatisation of the Saudi Aramco, which was announced to take place in 2018.

King Salman’s Moscow visit may also mark a turning point for the desired influx of Saudi investment into Russia. This summer, the Saudi ambassador to Russia, Ibrahim al-Rassi, visited a number of North Caucasian republics, where he assessed their investment attractiveness for the kingdom. Moreover, it is expected that the Saudi Public Investment Fund would launch its representative office in Russia following the results of the meeting.

Howbeit, Russia and Saudi Arabia are beginning to value relations with each other more, preferring pragmatic cooperation to costs from ideological confrontation.


MiSK Foundation builds vision of Hajj journey in two short films

JEDDAH: Two short films, “When You Don’t Know Where to Go, Head to Bakkah,” and “Masher Al-Mashaer” have successfully embodied a vivid vision and a complete picture of the details of Muslims’ Hajj journey.
Unforgettable moments were documented by a young professional group of Saudis in creative footage through the support of the MiSK Foundation under the guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The two films produced by MiSK on Makkah have generated a wide-ranging response and circulation on both TV channels and social media during the Hajj season.
The films were produced with new visual techniques and directing visions contrary to what viewers are used to seeing, in order to reflect a content that is presented for the first time during the Hajj season. They were accompanied with unprecedented media coverage during this Islamic event.
“When You Don’t Know Where To Go, Head To Bakkah,” and “Masher Al-Mashear,” highlight the greatness of this Islamic rite and conveyed the true image of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in different areas and through various agencies, government sectors and human cadres that served Muslim pilgrims.
The first film “Masher Al-Mashear,” — literally translates to feelings of the holy sites— addressed the mixed emotions and feelings of pilgrims during their presence in the holy sites to bring together the two meanings in one title, where it highlighted the meditative moments experienced by pilgrims throughout their spiritual journey.
The film involved high shots with a varied footage, whether aerial or on the ground, to take viewers on a virtual trip to the heart of the Hajj atmosphere with touching verses from the Holy Qur’an.

The second film titled “When You Don’t Know Where To Go, Head To Bakkah” – an ancient name for Makkah — presents the entire pilgrimage in a quick presentation starting with the arrival of pilgrims in Makkah and then moving between the holy sites to complete the Hajj rituals.
In this film, hyperlapse — a technique in time-lapse photography that allows the photographer to create motion shots — was used for the first time to display footage from inside the Grand Mosque and holy sites.

Bakkah was filmed in eight different locations by 14 young Saudis who worked over 86 hours in seven working days to produce this film.
The success of these two films is an extension of MiSK’s role in supporting the creativity of Saudi youth and a confirmation of the ability of the country’s citizens to provide artistic content with international standards.



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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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