It was an exciting presentation. The crown prince presented a future vision of a great country, a vision that becomes active immediately without the need for another five-year development plan. A year later, it became known as Saudi Vision 2030.
After the presentation, the crown prince began a discussion. Since I was just a visitor, I was the last commentator. I said to him: “I have no doubt, your highness, that the project you have put forward is a dream that looks, at the same time, realistic and achievable. However, we will be facing a huge dilemma: You are still an energetic and active young prince who has a clear vision, and your explanation was detailed and convincing. But, on the other hand, I can portray the situation as if you are driving an old car with worn out tires and an old engine. Honestly, with such a car, I tell you that you cannot reach your destination on time. This is a worn-out administrative government that is more than 50 years old.”
He replied: “This car has to move, and if it doesn’t, I will have to replace it with another one.”
Over the succeeding, thrilling, weeks, we witnessed many operations to repair and fix that “car,” which was almost not working; it started to operate at a high speed with its new integrated system, historical legislation, large projects, changes in leaders, institutions and external relations undertaken with a focused strategy. What has happened since has outshone what the country has witnessed throughout the past six decades. The plans for future actions will move the country to new levels.
Some people considered that Saudi Arabia was witnessing a tragic funeral, awaiting its own burial, targeted by the huge Iran and small Qatar. Saudi Arabia was suffering from economic collapse with each decrease in oil prices, a bloated bureaucracy, unmanageable state commitments to its citizens and others, poor productivity from bureaucratic institutions; it also suffered from deactivated traditions targeting the community and market. The Saudi private sector was reliant on government contracts. All these problems were being treated in the operating theater after the implementation of decisions and arrangements falling under the umbrella of the new project that aims at rebuilding the Kingdom.
When the recent decisions were issued within the framework of the fight against corruption, including the recent arrests, I recalled the confirmation of the crown prince that he would replace the car if it did not work. Indeed, he took actions to correct market distortions and prices. He dismissed narrow-minded social restrictions and allowed women to drive cars. He allowed entertainment programs and laid the cornerstone for alternatives projects to the oil-based ones.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told me that if the Saudi administration could not deliver his vision, he would change it. He has been as good as his word.
The government cannot be reformed and the ambitious vision cannot be implemented with a rampant culture of bribery and nepotism. Corruption leads to many political, social and economic problems. The government suffered from inadequate performance that did not meet the high cost paid for all contracts. That situation did not match the aspirations of the crown prince, who will not be satisfied with only achieving the budget at the end of each year; he has pledged to complete the revitalization project, which will be carried on for another 13 years. A modern country that is capable of carrying out its responsibilities must be transparent, fair, effective and productive. We cannot expect the crown prince to impose an order allowing women to drive cars, on those who are against such progress, without addressing corruption, disregarding the high rank of the corrupt.
We are now aware that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman does not adopt concession policies and does not favor postponing solutions, which had prevailed for decades, whether in the face of a harmful country such as Qatar, or a hired group such as the Houthis. He does not tolerate extremists disrupting society, or those who are corrupt looting the country. The crown prince insists on achieving a modern, powerful and prosperous Kingdom, with an economy ranking in the top 10 in the world, not just the top 20. He wants the Kingdom to become a larger regional power.
I will conclude how I began. A few weeks ago, I applauded the amazing decisions of the crown prince. He asked me: “Do you think the car is working?” I replied: “Working amazingly, at a high speed.” He then said: “We have not even started yet.”
Who would have imagined that this is the same Saudi Kingdom that was slow and worn out just two years ago?
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed