Saudi Arabia’s development model wins admirers in Iran

Saudi Arabia’s development model wins admirers in Iran

Those arriving in, visiting or living in the Kingdom already notice the significant transformations in most of its cities (AFP)
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The Middle East is currently experiencing a new phase of parallel competition. This rivalry focuses on conviction and attraction, or what is referred to as the attractive model of governance and development, as well as investment in a nation’s human resources, with Saudi Arabia opting for this model more than eight years ago. During the past three years, the features of this governance model have become more evident, comprehensive and mature, as expressed through the Kingdom’s modernization, openness, development, diversification of income, and improvements in societal welfare and quality of life.

It is true that many of the massive reform, development and investment projects in Saudi Arabia are still at the midway stage, with the first phase to be barely completed when Vision 2030 is achieved. However, all those arriving in, visiting or living in the Kingdom already notice the significant transformations in most of its cities and the new technocratic administrative mindset in the management of its ministries and institutions. This is in addition to the women’s empowerment projects, large-scale investments in sports and tourism, and efforts to boost the contribution of the non-rentier or “third” sector to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product.

These transformations in the Kingdom are closely followed by ambitious young people across the region, particularly in those countries with which the Kingdom has less than ideal — or even strained — relations, such as Iran.

The transformations, which we could call the Saudi model, have influenced many young Iranians, who keep a close eye on what is happening in neighboring nations, particularly the Arabian Gulf states. The Saudi model has increasingly become the benchmark according to which the performance of successive Iranian governments has been gauged.

This situation has come about despite the continuous promotion of negative, outdated stereotypes about Saudi Arabia that are influenced by national or historical motives. Saudi Arabia’s achievements have exceeded many of the Iranian leadership’s promises, with successive governments in Tehran making numerous grandiose promises to the Iranian people without fulfilling them on the ground. Moreover, every Iranian government makes more promises whenever budget time comes around. Like the electoral promises, these are not only unfulfilled but are actively contradicted by the government’s subsequent actions, with the negative results and already dire living conditions in the country expected to see further deterioration at every level.

The transformations in the Kingdom are closely followed by ambitious young people across the region

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Here, I will cite some of the comments made by a number of senior Iranian figures on this issue. One such prominent personality is Ali Ghanbari, a former lawmaker, deputy minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and member of the professoriate at Tarbiat Modares University. He said: “Iran has fallen into the trap of sham development, because real development means strengthening infrastructure, creating conditions in the country for distributing welfare and improving the economic and cultural conditions.”

Ghanbari added: “Meanwhile, the past six five-year development plans haven’t achieved such results. Additionally, the mere figures and statistics that show there’s limited economic growth don’t mean that actual development has been achieved. We are backwards by 15 years compared to neighboring countries. In the best-case scenario, we are 10 years behind them. Realistically speaking, we are 15 years behind our neighboring countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others.”

Another leading Iranian figure, economic expert Vahid Shaqaqi-Shahri, said: “Saudi Arabia has experienced the third wave of knowledge, undergoing a substantial transformation in the knowledge-centered economy and changing its system of wealth. It’s now benefiting from wealth-generating elements such as the virtual, intelligent and green economies as well as renewable energies. Iran, meanwhile, is still going through the second wave of knowledge, and we insist on improving the industry’s conditions based on the second wave at a time when our rivals have started the third wave and developed plans for the system of generating future wealth.”

On the difference between action and mere words, Prof. Majid Moradi noted: “For years, we have been launching ‘Death to America’ slogans, mocking Saudi Arabia for being subordinate to America. But when we reexamine the matter, we will find that Iran, rather than Saudi Arabia, has become subordinate to the US (we seek to appease the US in order to release our assets frozen in South Korea so that we can use them for civilian purposes). Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is resisting America, inviting China to have a foothold in the Middle East.”

In the context of the economy, Moradi said: “The president of the republic has announced over the past two years that we won’t make the lives of our citizens dependent on the talks with the US. But we practically see that the dollar rises and decreases with every piece of news that emerges about the nuclear deal. The Saudi riyal, on the other side, is standing firm. The standing of the Saudi riyal has never been impacted even if mountains move forth.”

The already dire living conditions in Iran are expected to see further deterioration at every level

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Moradi added: “The strong economy is the key factor that granted Saudi Arabia political independence, not the slogans directed at the forces of global arrogance (the Iranian regime’s title for the US). What has practically damaged our independence is the weak economy. This is the difference between our riyal and the Saudi riyal. Our riyal is weak due to the weak policies, and their policies, on the other side, bear fruit due to the strong riyal they have.”

On planning for the future, Iranian columnist Ehsan Bodaghi wrote: “Saudi Arabia is preparing itself via giant projects such as the $500 billion megacity NEOM to increase its population 50 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, Iran prohibits fetal disability screenings. However, many Iranian lawmakers label Saudi rulers as reactionaries and ignorant.”

In Iran, according to an Iranian social media user, the Caspian International Exhibition was closed owing to music being played and female exhibition-goers removing their veils. He said: “While Saudi Arabia brings soccer players to promote its country, some are waiting for locks of women’s hair to be shown so that an ‘international exhibition’ can be shut down.”

Iranian economist Siamak Qassemi noted: “The idea adopted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to turn the Gulf states into a bloc similar to the European Union is proceeding quickly. In my view, it’s unlikely that this union will adopt a common currency. The economic gap between the northern and southern Arabian Gulf will further increase. According to the World Happiness Report, Iran was ranked 101 globally while Saudi Arabia occupied 30th place.”

In every measure, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is progressing, advancing and flourishing. Rival states would do well to learn from this and embrace the Kingdom’s model of governance and development.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
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