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Unveiling Saudi Vision 2030

Unveiling Saudi Vision 2030
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Updated 30 May 2020

Unveiling Saudi Vision 2030

Unveiling Saudi Vision 2030

The eagerly awaited moment of change was unveiled by then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman


On April 25, 2016, Mohammed bin Salman, then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, launched Vision 2030, an ambitious strategic plan designed to transform the nation’s economy, reduce its dependence on oil and nurture a “vibrant society... characterized by strong roots and strong foundations that emphasize moderate Islam, national pride, Saudi heritage and Islamic culture.”

Among the goals outlined in Vision 2030 was a determination to become “a global investment powerhouse ... to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues” and to exploit Saudi Arabia’s unique geographical location and transform the country into “a global hub connecting three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa.”

Also revealed were plans to build a trade-boosting bridge across the Red Sea, sell shares in Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, develop a national defense industry, encourage inward investment, reduce unemployment and scrap unsustainable electricity and water subsidies.  

A seminal event occurred on April 25, 2016. On that date Saudi Arabia’s then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced details and contours of what we have come to know as the path-breaking, paradigm-shifting Saudi Vision 2030. That very day the prince gave Al Arabiya News Channel an exclusive interview which was his first one. At the time, I was based in Dubai editing the channel’s English digital arm; it was obvious to me that if there was an eagerly awaited moment of change that would positively impact the region, this was it.

Here was a man who was charting a new course that was an almost total about-face for Saudi Arabia. It was the kind of thing that nobody had tried before. The young prince was giving hope to a nation, 60 percent of whose population was under the age of 35. He talked about the government having targets, key performance indicators and Project Management Offices, as well as ridding the Kingdom of its dependence on oil — all of which were things unheard of in the past.

Five months later — on Sept. 26, 2016 to be precise — I was in Jeddah after being appointed editor in chief of Arab News. Having lived in Jeddah during my formative years, I felt that I had a genuine feeling for, and understanding of, the city. What I failed to consider, on the other hand, was that in the five months since the announcement of Vision 2030, change had become the new norm. And not a slow glacial change, but a fast and urgent one. I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised, and I wrote about my optimism on my first day at Arab News. In that column I mentioned how I was assisted upon my arrival by a female Saudi receptionist at the Rosewood Jeddah hotel. “While the thought of having a woman do such a job was unheard of 20 years ago, I must confess that I honestly have never dealt with a more professional, meticulous and ‘happy to serve’ receptionist in my travels around the world,” I wrote in the piece that was aptly titled, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

It was a coincidence that I returned to the Kingdom only five months after Vision 2030 was announced. From the perspective of a journalist, it was an exciting time even though I had no idea what to expect. Nor did I know whether the announced changes, genuine as they and the intentions underlying them were, would materialize into reality.

“Thanks to Vision 2030, there is no more talk of reducing depending on oil, but rather a roadmap with a deadline… Many talented male and female Saudis are being carefully headhunted, properly motivated and encouraged to take part in the exciting transformation of their country.”

From Faisal J. Abbas’ column in Arab News on Sept. 28, 2016

Day after day, it became evident that Saudi Arabia was on a new track and nothing could stand in the way. For example, curbing the powers of the religious police was a giant step away from what had been the norm. In one fell swoop, the fears that had for so long stopped Saudis from thinking outside the box were done away with. Before the curbs, members of the religious police had been a virtual law unto themselves and, in a few tragic cases, they had been responsible for the deaths of young Saudis. It is disappointing that the Saudi leadership gets very little credit for this remarkable achievement which represented a complete reversal of the old status quo in the Kingdom.

That decision followed concerts and musical performances before live audiences, the very sort of events that had been unheard of in the past. Some of the old-timers in the newspaper flinched when we decided to run large photos showing ordinary Saudi men and women sitting next to each other, eating popcorn as they enjoyed themselves humming along to live music at a concert.

The first mixed concert in the Kingdom that I personally attended was by “iLuminate,” the spectacular LED hit show from New York. In the runup to the show, there was a conflict between the security forces who said the mixed event could not take place and the people from the official General Entertainment Authority who insisted the event had to be mixed. Ultimately, the GEA won and it was a fabulously memorable performance, mesmerizing thousands in the massive Al-Jowhara Stadium. Men, women, and children sat together and enjoyed a dazzling show, full of music, dance moves and special effects.

Key Dates

  • 1

    Then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman launches Vision 2030.

  • 2

    Mohammed bin Salman is appointed Crown Prince by King Salman.

  • 3

    At the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledges a return to moderate Islam and launches Neom, a $500-billion megacity.

  • 4

    Ending a 35-year ban on cinemas, the first commercial movie theater opens in Riyadh with a screening of the Marvel film “Black Panther.”

  • 5

    A ban on Saudi women driving is lifted.

  • 6

    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launches a mega-tourism project in AlUla, including a resort designed by Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve.

    Timeline Image Feb. 10, 2019

  • 7

    Saudi Arabia creates three new ministries, for sports, tourism and investment, as part of its commitment to Vision 2030.

Next came women driving and the abolition of the guardianship laws. People of my generation never thought we would see women driving, but we were proved wrong and it did happen. I invited our Senior Editor Mo Gannon, a Canadian in our Dubai office with an international driving license, to Jeddah. I asked her to be part of the history that was unfolding in Saudi Arabia. We got her into the driver’s seat; I sat next to her to record the reactions of her and our Saudi female staff who were also in the car. It was an incredible feeling of liberation for the women of Saudi Arabia. The happy faces that appeared on our front pages were of proud and traditionally but fashionably dressed Saudi women of all shades from all regions. What had been the forbidden exception became the accepted norm.

These cultural and social changes resulted in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earning the total support and admiration of the people.

Faisal J. Abbas | Editor in Chief

Then there were the high-decibel concerts at Ad-Diriyah. The setting was straight out of the Arabian Nights, and it was enthralling to see history encounter the modern world in the ancient deserts of Arabia.

These cultural and social changes resulted in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earning the total support and admiration of the people. He earned their love and respect by making longed-for changes and getting rid of suffocating restrictions.

At the same time, the crown prince did not forget about Saudi Arabia’s international image. He set about rehabilitating that image and transforming the country into a center of moderation. In order to do this, he hosted leaders of other religions in Saudi Arabia and focused on the virtues and advantages of interfaith cooperation. He invited Jewish rabbis and Christian preachers to the Kingdom and encouraged them to engage in dialogue with one another and with the Saudi ulema.

The crown prince’s most significant announcement, however, was the one in which stated that he wanted to return Saudi Arabia to a moderate form of Islam or, in his words, return it to the way it was before 1979.

Why 1979? Because as he said during his CBS interview with Norah O’Donnell in September 2018: “We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”

A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Sept. 28, 2016.

Having said all that, I must now ask a question: Has the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 achieved all that it set out to achieve? No. Will it? Probably not. Has there ever been a vision anywhere at any time that has managed to make real all its wishes and desires? No. Many mistakes and mishandling by several government bodies and global unforeseen events have at least partially derailed and delayed some of the ambitious plans of Vision 2030. Mega-projects and economic plans will surely be affected by the coronavirus, its aftermath and its influence on oil prices which have dropped to a new low.

However, just think of the size of the problem that would have been had Vision 2030 not been in place when the coronavirus struck the world! Imagine, the religious police opposing the suspension of prayers at the two holy shrines and mosques across the Kingdom: Hundreds of thousands if not millions would have been affected.

Leave all of that and look at the key question which is the bottom line. Is Saudi Arabia better off today and happier today than it was four years ago? Just ask the youth who form 60 percent of the Saudi population what they think. And there you will find the answer.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 53 people were wounded in clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.

Egypt’s economy to rebound from 2022, S&P Ratings says

Egypt’s economy to rebound from 2022, S&P Ratings says
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt’s economy to rebound from 2022, S&P Ratings says

Egypt’s economy to rebound from 2022, S&P Ratings says
  • Real GDP growth will average 5.3 percent between 2022 and 2024

DUBAI: Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth will begin to rebound from 2022 onward on its foreign reserve buffers and debt market access, ratings agency S&P Global said, as it affirmed the country’s credit rating at “B/B” with a stable outlook.
Real GDP growth will average 5.3 percent between 2022 and 2024, S&P forecasts, due to higher public and private investment.
That compares to an expected 2.5 percent growth in 2021, where the impact of the pandemic was felt in full force, affecting major sectors such as tourism, manufacturing, and construction.
Still, S&P’s rating of the North African country is constrained by its wide fiscal deficit, large public debt and low-income levels.
But ongoing fiscal and economic reforms present strong medium-term growth prospects for Egypt, the new report said, and recovering growth and lower domestic interest rates will put the debt ratio back on a downward path.
“We expect Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves and access to domestic and external debt markets will allow it to cover higher external financing needs and upcoming maturities,” the report added.
Remittance inflow into the country will remain at high levels, and higher oil prices this year will have a balanced impact on its hydrocarbon exports and imports.
Egypt’s main sources of foreign exchange will remain under pressure, the report warned, as tourism and Suel Canal receipts still struggle amid the pandemic.

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition
Updated 08 May 2021

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: An attack by an unmanned aerial surveillance system on Saturday targeted Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base in western Iraq which hosts US and other international forces, but it caused no injuries, a coalition spokesman said.
US Army Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the US-led coalition, said on Twitter that the attack was being investigated but that an initial report suggests that the attack took place at 0220 local time and caused damage to a hangar.
The United States accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack.

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market
  • The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters did not take any hostage or put up resistance when government troops took positions
  • The rebel group broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south

COTABATO, Philippines: Dozens of Muslim militants occupied a public market overnight in the southern Philippines before fleeing after a tense standoff with government forces, officials said Saturday.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters did not take any hostage or put up resistance when army troops and police took positions at dawn Saturday near the public market in the farming town of Datu Paglas, said military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar.
“They went into the market and stole food but got stuck inside when they saw that our forces have taken positions to ensure other buildings could not be threatened,” he told reporters.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.
The rebel group broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south, after it entered into peace talks and later signed a Muslim autonomy deal with the government in 2014. The breakaway guerrillas have continued sporadic attacks and bombings, with some aligning themselves with the Daesh group.
Baldomar said government forces locked down the town center, where the public market is located, and closed a highway at the height of the hours-long rebel occupation of the market. After the gunmen fled in batches following talks with local officials, soldiers found at least four homemade bombs placed by the rebels along the highway. Troops were pursuing the gunmen, he said.
Datu Paglas Vice Mayor Mohammad Paglas, however, gave a different account and told reporters that the mostly young Muslim rebels arrived on board five trucks in the town center Friday to rest and mark the holy fasting month of Ramadan. He added some of the gunmen have relatives in the town in predominantly Muslim Maguindanao province.
“A big number of gunmen arrived and told us they just wanted to take a rest since it’s Ramadan. We allowed them,” Paglas said.
When troops and police, some on board armored personnel carriers, arrived, the rebels were forced to retreat into the public market for cover but allowed people to leave the building, he said.
Paglas said there was an exchange of fire before the rebels fled, as requested by local officials.
Baldomar said some of the gunmen opened fire on civilian motorists, who were trapped along the highway. The motorists later managed to flee with the help of the military, he said.
Government forces have been on alert in the south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation, after hundreds of mostly local militants with some foreign supporters linked to the Daesh group laid siege on southern Marawi city in 2017.
They took over buildings, including banks, school campuses and a hospital, before troops quelled the insurrection after five months with the help of surveillance aircraft deployed by the US and Australia. The audacious attack at the time reinforced fears that the Daesh was gaining a foothold in the Southeast Asia despite battle setbacks in Iraq and Syria.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council
Updated 08 May 2021

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council
  • Imran Khan invites Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit Pakistan

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan have signed an agreement to establish the Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council.

Ahead of the visit, Pakistan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the establishment of the council – a body created for streamlining bilateral cooperation between the two countries – to ‘remove hurdles’ to investment deals signed during the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan in February 2019.

Representatives from both countries also signed a memorandum of understanding on illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and chemical precursors, Saudi news agency SPA reported.

“Another MoU for financing eligible projects in the fields of energy, infrastructure, transportation, water, and communications between the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was signed as well,” Al-Arabiya TV reported separately.

The two leaders also witnessed the signing of agreements increasing cooperation on people sentenced to penalties depriving freedom, and on crime prevention.

Khan arrived in the Kingdom on Friday evening for a three-day visit on the invitation of the crown prince, who was present at Jeddah airport to receive him and the first lady. He is accompanied by a high-level delegation, including the foreign minister and other members of the Cabinet.

The crown prince and Pakistani leader held wide-ranging talks on bilateral, regional and international issues in Jeddah, a statement from Pakistan’s foreign office said.

“The two leaders reaffirmed the strong and historic bonds between the two countries rooted firmly in shared beliefs, common values, mutual trust and longstanding tradition of mutual support,” the statement said, and added that the two parties agreed to “further strengthen, deepen and diversify the existing bilateral political, economic, trade, defense and security ties.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“Special emphasis was laid on increasing Saudi investments in Pakistan, collaboration in the field of energy, and increased job opportunities for Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis who remit billions of dollars back home every year.

On regional issues, Khan outlined his vision of a ‘peaceful neighborhood.’ He lauded the crown prince for efforts and initiatives aimed at reinforcing and promoting regional peace.

Khan highlighted the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He also said Pakistan had made consistent efforts to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, the statement reported.

The Afghan question is important in the region against the backdrop of foreign troops pulling out of Pakistan’s neighboring country after a war that has lasted two decades, and that ends with the Taliban controlling huge swathes of the country.

During talks, issues related to the environment and climate change were discussed and the PM reportedly appreciated the crown prince’s ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ initiative.

Khan has reportedly also invited the crown prince to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience, the foreign office said.

On Friday, Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose official visit preluded Khan’s, held talks with the Saudi crown prince and reviewed bilateral ties.

He also discussed defense cooperation with the Saudi military chief of staff.