RIYADH: There are several shorthand terms for Saudi Arabia bandied around in the press: “Oil-rich,” perhaps, or “the desert Kingdom.”
Neither, of course, does justice to the modern Saudi Arabia of 2018 — nor to where the Kingdom is heading over the next 12 years.
On Sept. 23, Saudi Arabia observes National Day, in recognition of the date in 1932 on which the country was founded by King Abdul Aziz, known in the West as Ibn Saud.
It was during King Abdul Aziz’s reign that oil was discovered in commercial quantities, when in March 1938 “black gold” was struck at the site known as Dammam Well No. 7, or “the Prosperity Well.”
And prosper Saudi Arabia did. The oil boom brought untold riches to the Kingdom — yet the country became over-reliant on the energy industry, forming what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has called an “addiction” to oil.
It is the crown prince’s bold — and, say many, ambitious — Vision 2030 reform plan that aims to overcome that addiction.
The plan, unveiled in 2016, is a comprehensive blueprint for the future, laying out a strategy, and clear targets, to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.
Under the spirit of the plan, a raft of changes have already taken place. Musical concerts and cinemas have made a comeback, women have been given the right to drive as of June this year, and the economy has opened up more to foreign investment.
Saudi Arabia — despite, as some news outlets tell us, being so “oil rich” — is also embarking on a plan to boost renewable energy. As part of the Vision 2030 program, Saudi Arabia plans to meet 10 percent of its power demand from renewable sources by 2023 — and it fully expects to exceed this target. The country’s planned megacity — the $500 billion NEOM project, announced last year — will run entirely on renewables.
It is for these reasons that Arab News is looking forward, rather than back, on this year’s National Day.
In our Saudi National Day section, we delve into myriad aspects of this changing Kingdom, from how the youth — surely the country’s most valuable resource — perceive the future of the country, to the various megaprojects underway, women’s empowerment, and the entertainment revolution being seen in country where cinemas, until very recently, were banned.
This is complemented by a new section on the Arab News website called “Road to 2030” where you will find all the latest news, analysis and opinion about the reforms.
As is becoming increasingly clear to the world, Saudi Arabia is no longer a “desert Kingdom,” nor will it be oil-rich forever.
It is rich in other ways: In its youth, its leadership, and its bold plan to transform over the next 12 years in a way it has never done before.