A study conducted by US News and World Report in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and published by Business Insider has ranked Saudi Arabia as the ninth most powerful country in the world for political and financial influence.
The Kingdom was cited for its vast oil reserves and exports, as well as its importance to millions of Muslims around the world because of the cities of Makkah and Madinah.
Its strong economy was also highlighted, with growth forecast at 2.6 percent in 2019, partially as a result of its oil reserve capacity exceeding 266 billion barrels.
The Kingdom’s militarily strength has grown, as it is currently the world’s third biggest spender on defense, with plans in place to localize over 50 percent of its military procurement by 2030 in order to improve self-sufficiency and create jobs. Currently, the country imports 98 percent of munitions and military equipment.
On account of its religious significance, the “Middle East Giant” has also grown its cultural influence among its neighbors and further afield. The number of Hajj and Umrah visitors entering to the country from abroad has tripled in the last decade, reaching 8 million people annually, and that number is expected to reach 30 million visitors by the end of the next decade. Vast sums have been invested in technology, infrastructure and the hospitality sector in order to meet the growing demands, which, in turn, has contributed to the Kingdom’s position as one of the more technologically advanced nations in the Gulf.
But Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program is perhaps the biggest driver of investment, and has contributed significantly to the high rating of the Kingdom in the joint report, with the government’s serious efforts, at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to wean itself off oil and to diversify all areas of its economy the standout event in its recent history.
The report itself surveyed over 20,000 political analysts, economists, academics and other, taking into account areas ranging from quality of life, citizen levels of satisfaction and gross domestic product from the 80 most populous countries in the world.
• Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist and financial analyst.