Three years of reforms, and we are just getting started
In an editorial in these pages three years ago, Arab News welcomed the appointment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a vote of confidence in Saudi Arabia’s younger generation, and we predicted that rapid and far-reaching reform would penetrate every corner of the Kingdom.
Well, we weren’t wrong, were we?
As we report today in our special coverage on the third anniversary of MBS’s appointment, both the scope and the pace of change have been breathtaking. Women can drive, and that is only the veneer on a whole raft of female empowerment measures; cinemas have reopened, again just the icing on the cake of a rapidly emerging homegrown Saudi entertainment industry; global sports executives are queuing up to bring their events to the Kingdom, from football and boxing to golf and motor racing; Saudi Arabia is opening up its unrivaled cultural heritage to international tourism; the Future Investment Initiative has brought the world’s business elite to Riyadh to see for themselves how the crown prince intends to drive the creation of a genuinely 21st-century country; and if any of that business elite wish to stay here to live and work, they can do that too, thanks to the new Privileged Iqama residency permit.
Of course, no one ever said this would be easy. Inevitably there have been bumps in the road, but so far each one has been negotiated with skill by the Kingdom’s new young generation, and recourse to the alliances that the crown prince has nurtured. When the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic decimated global demand for oil, Saudi Arabia and Russia restored stability to the market with an unprecedented agreement on output cuts. When drone and missile attacks knocked out two vital Saudi Aramco processing facilities last year, enemies of the Kingdom gleefully predicted long-term damage; but they reckoned without the ingenuity of Aramco’s cadre of young Saudi engineers, who restored full production in less than three weeks.
Much remains to be done, in a challenging environment. Amid economic carnage from the coronavirus pandemic, some ambitious Vision 2030 targets will require to be reset. But anyone who thinks Saudi Arabia’s new generation will not rise to that challenge hasn’t been paying attention for the past three years.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas