The many Saudi initiatives paving the road to the future
As chairman of NEOM’s board of directors, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of The Line city project last January The ambitious and unique project seeks to “achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 in terms of economic diversification by providing 380,000 job opportunities and contributing $48 billion to the GDP by 2030,” according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
On the 24th of the same month, the crown prince appeared again, this time in his capacity as chairman of the board of directors of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to announce the adoption of the PIF’s strategy for the next five years, indicating that it aims to “grow assets to more than SR4 trillion ($1.07 trillion) and create 1.8 million jobs, directly and indirectly.”
A few days later, during the fourth conference of the Future Investment Initiative, the crown prince revealed a new vision for Riyadh, saying that it aims “to make Riyadh one of the 10 largest economic cities in the world.”
Saudi projects continue to be launched at a rapid pace. In early February, the crown prince announced the “development of a system of specialized legislation,” stressing that the government is working to “develop and reform systems that preserve rights, establish principles of justice and transparency, protect human rights, achieve comprehensive development, and enhance the Kingdom’s global competitiveness.”
These significant economic projects are worth billions of dollars of investment and are attracting both foreign and domestic capital. It is important to grant capital owners legal guarantees and create a regulatory environment that ensures their rights. It is also important to have commercial courts in place in which to settle disputes and prevent one party from infringing on the other.
These legislative steps, to the extent that they will give investors greater confidence in the Saudi market, will enhance the local human rights environment; they will allow the judiciary to function in a more efficient, modern and transparent way, and prevent personal judgment and discrepancies from influencing rulings. There will be a clear, written legal system, which will be a reference for all litigation.The draft personal status system, the draft civil transactions system, the draft penal system for discretionary penalties and the draft evidentiary system are legal projects under preparation. Together they will establish respect for the culture of human rights and individual freedom and limit the power of hard-line clerics and old social, tribal norms. This last point will help create an open, tolerant and flexible social atmosphere that will attract families from inside and outside the Kingdom to contribute to the goals that the government aims to achieve.
The Saudi work ethic, which reflects a structural change in administration by making it more efficient, resulted in the launch of the Green Saudi and Green Middle East initiatives on March 28. The crown prince said, according to the SPA, that the initiatives aim to “plant 10 billion trees within the Kingdom in the upcoming decades, the equivalent (of) rehabilitating roughly 40 million hectares of degraded lands, translating to a 12-fold increase from current tree covers.”
Saudi Arabia is strong, keen to develop its legislative structure and diversify its sources of income, and it has many opportunities for investment in a variety of fields.
The crown prince, aware of the importance of protecting the environment and of the responsibility of oil-producing countries to mitigate negative climate impacts, indicated that the government will work diligently to “reduce carbon emissions by more than 4 percent of global contributions, through renewable energy projects that will save 50 percent of the production of electricity within the Kingdom by 2030.” Projects involving clean hydrocarbon technologies “will eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions, in addition to raising the proportion of waste diversion from landfills to 94 percent.”
The crown prince not only launched the two initiatives but also communicated with many regional political leaders to explain his goals and create partnerships with interested countries. He also wants to convince governments of the importance of strengthening the vegetation cover, which helps to preserve water, air, and food, thus protecting human safety and reducing disease, desertification, and drought.
The Green Middle East initiative takes into account the difficulties that many countries face from pollution, desertification, the erosion of vegetation cover, the extinction of rare animals and the scarcity of water suitable for human use. Saudi Arabia believes that these problems are no less dangerous than terrorism or other such challenges facing humanity. Furthermore, these environmental issues may be the cause of political conflicts — as is happening now between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand and Ethiopia on the other — related to the Renaissance Dam project on which negotiations have stalled.
The crown prince realizes that environmental issues may be the cause of future military confrontations. He knows that there is a shift in the patterns of environmental and climate-friendly industries and that this directly affects the “quality of life,” the improvement of which is one of the main goals of Saudi Vision 2030. Thus, the Green Saudi and Green Middle East initiatives complement Saudi strategic plans regarding afforestation, the humanization of cities, and the preservation of wildlife.
On the last day of March, the crown prince held a virtual meeting with senior executives and businessmen, inaugurating the largest partnership project between the government and the private sector inside Saudi Arabia. Shareek, meaning “partner,” is the name given to the ambitious project, which aims to “accelerate the injection of investments worth about SR5 trillion into the local economy by 2030.”
Although many of the above projects are economic in nature, they have numerous social, cultural, and behavioral impacts. They will create new patterns of thinking, production and behavior and thus reshape relationships in a more dynamic and modern way, allowing Saudis to contribute to the process of change and reform.
The examples above are testaments to the great vitality of the Saudi government and society as well as business and investment sectors. Many governments lack such dynamism, especially in these times during which the world’s most powerful economies are suffering due to the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia, however, where vaccination operations are accelerating and have exceeded 5 million doses administered in more than 500 centers, the government has sent messages of reassurance to citizens, residents and foreign investors. The message is that the Kingdom is strong, keen to develop its legislative structure and diversify its sources of income, and that it has many opportunities for investment in a variety of fields. The management of the pandemic has demonstrated the Kingdom’s ability to govern in such a way to reduce the financial and health burdens on the people and the economy.
• Hassan Al-Mustafa is a Saudi writer and researcher interested in Islamic movements, the development of religious discourse and the relationship between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran. Twitter: @Halmustafa