Steady pace of progress in Saudi Arabia - GulfToday

Steady pace of progress in Saudi Arabia

Fighter jets of the Royal Saudi Air Force fly past a flag showing Prince Salman in Riyadh. (Supplied: Twitter)

Fighter jets of the Royal Saudi Air Force fly past a flag showing Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh. (Supplied: Twitter)

As Saudi Arabia celebrated its 92nd anniversary of its emergence, it was looking into the future more than to the past, though the past marked significant milestones. Ever since the 1950s, 20 years after it has emerged, Saudi Arabia started a journey of modernization, with special emphasis on education and medical facilities.

The oil revenues were used to build the social infrastructure, and it was strengthened much more over the decades. And then came the change in the administration and political set up, leading to the formation of Majlis-e-Shura, an advisory council, and municipal elections based on adult franchise.

Being a conservative society and as a country which included Makkah and Madinah, two of the holiest places of Islam, Saudi Arabia shouldered the responsibility of a Muslim country.

But it also helped the country in many ways. The thousands, and then over the years, hundreds of thousands who performed the annual pilgrimage of Haj to Makkah, and then visited Madinah, from different parts of the world, brought in imperceptible changes within the country.

First, tourism, religious tourism, became a viable economic sector with the huge numbers that were involved and the infrastructure that had to be developed to accommodate them. It is not surprising that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has diversified tourism to make the country a non-religious holiday destination, which includes fashion, music and cultural events. And over the years, the restrictions on women which was natural in a conservative society were made to give way to greater freedom, and today women are more educated and empowered than the menfolk in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, which he conceived even before he was named Crown Prince in 2017, came at the right time when Saudi Arabia needed to make its next quantum jump in its journey of progress and prosperity. There was the recognition that Saudi Arabia’s economy needs to be diversified and moved away from oil-centric focus. The plan is to make Saudi Arabia a hub for investment and innovation and a city of the future is being planned in Neom.

Saudi Arabia has remained a stable polity even as the countries in the region went through political convulsions.

The successive rulers had deftly managed economic development even as they used the economic clout to exert political influence in many ways. It needed sagacity and political skills which the rulers of the country displayed through the different reigns of the kings. And they carried on internal reforms simultaneously, but it was done in a gradual manner. The pace would have irritated many inside and outside Saudi Arabia, but it had helped in preserving political stability which is sine qua non for economic progress.

It is now possible for Saudi Arabia to forge a fresh image for itself in the new century because the demography has changed radically. As Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States said in an investment event in New York, “We Saudis are an emerging nation, 75 % of the our population is under 35.”

The social and economic orientation of the country’s policies have to change accordingly. And it is for this reason, that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that the country would not like to be drawn into blocs and choose sides. “We want to talk about investment. We want to talk about innovation. We want to talk about progress. And we hope that our international partners will focus on that as well,” he said addressing a think tank in New York.

The priorities are clear for Saudi Arabia as it moves towards the centenary of its birth as a modern state in 2032. It wants to be an ideal modern, technological country fit for the new century.

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