Why today is about Saudi Arabia’s future, as much as its past
On National Day, we Saudis typically celebrate our past. In a way, this occasion is very much like Thanksgiving; we look back at the blood, sweat and tears that were sacrificed for the unification of the Kingdom in 1932… and then praise God for what this nation has become.
Cynics would argue that any country which stumbles upon a vast wealth of oil would have ended up the same way. Of course, all these cynics need to do is just look at Iraq and Iran, for example, and they will find out that their argument doesn’t stand.
On National Day, local newspapers typically publish stories reminding the public of why we should be proud of our past. However, we at Arab News have decided to mark this occasion differently this time.
In 2016, Vision 2030 was announced by then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Promising to rid the Kingdom of its dependence on oil through introducing social and economic reforms, the vision quickly emerged as a blueprint to Saudi Arabia’s future.
On National Day, us Saudis typically celebrate our past. However, we at Arab News decided to envision Saudi Arabia’s future under Vision 2030 – and it looks bright.
Faisal J. Abbas
It wasn’t too long after that we started feeling the change.We finally had a young leader who spoke our language, empowered by his father, King Salman. It was uncommon for Saudis to hear the terms “Project Management Office” and “KPIs” from their leaders. Then suddenly, international companies were granted licenses to operate without the need for a Saudi partner. The religious police’s powers were curbed for the first time, and their role restricted to a somewhat advisory one.
A government entertainment authority was established and we – like any normal country – started having concerts and live shows. For instance, this year’s National Day will be celebrated by a special performance of Cirque du Soleil, who are visiting KSA for the first time.
In 2017, Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Crown Prince; with greater powers, he accelerated his reform plans. Only a few months ago, cinema theatres re-opened, a Culture Ministry was established, and women were allowed to drive and enter sport stadiums.
Vision 2030 has also unleashed the potential of Saudi women: From government positions, to CEOs, to Uber drivers, there is no disputing that they are now driving much more than just cars.
In a symbolic gesture, MBS – the man who will one day become Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – also met with the Coptic Pope in Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England and with Christian and Jewish leaders in the United States.
Of course, with change comes teething problems. And there is no doubt that not everyone will be at ease with these fast and drastic reforms. Will the vision achieve all of its targets? Certainly not – but the idea is to reach for the stars anyway.
Needless to say, we as Saudis were never used to paying VAT or having unsubsidized utility bills – and of course, many people would rather this not be the case.
However, if we want to be a normal country, we must start behaving like one. For the first time, we in Saudi Arabia are minding our spending, switching off unnecessary lights and considering gasoline bills before we buy our next car.
It is also significant that the government launched ADAA (The National Center for Performance Measurement). In today’s issue, we interview the head of ADAA, Husameddin AlMadani, who tells us that their aim isn’t only to monitor government body performance, but to allow citizens to have a constant say in it too.
As government officials constantly review and amend the targets and deliverables, we at Arab News decided to dedicate today’s National Day coverage to imagining how Saudi Arabia could look in 2030.
With the introduction of artificial intelligence, renewable energy, the completion of mega-projects such as NEOM and the restoration of ancient heritage sites such as Al-Ula, our journalists envisioned Saudi Arabia’s future – and it looks bright.
This is why we are also proud to introduce Road to 2030, our new online section dedicated to tracking and reporting on Saudi reforms and Vision 2030.
As such, today we celebrate the Kingdom’s past, present… and future.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.