The West is waking up to the transformation of Saudi Arabia
Many in the West have maintained an elitist and colonialist attitude toward the Arab and Islamic world, representing it as backward and mired in stagnation in which Islamist radicalization spawns festeringterrorism. This view reached its apex in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has shattered this worldview. The international business community is observing with awe Saudi Arabia’s social and economic transformation, which is nothing short of a mammoth undertaking. It could not occur without a prime minister who is a savvy tech entrepreneur, the chief executive of a corporation-state.
The crown prince deploys his mastery of data, and statistics that are at his fingertips, to drive ministerial directives on how to implement economic development, technological innovation and cultural liberalization. This breadth of knowledge is also critical to oversee the Kingdom’s economic diversification initiatives — from NEOM, the futuristic new smart megacity, to tourism, sports and entertainment, and clean energy.
Who could have predicted that such an engine for global economic growth and prosperity would emerge inthe same Kingdom that had been politically and culturally demonized in the West?
Saudi Arabia’s soft power was perfectly illustrated by the crown prince’s fluency and eloquence in English in his interview this month on Fox News
Saudi Arabia’s soft power was perfectly illustrated by the crown prince’s fluency and eloquence in English in his interview this month on Fox News; the English-speaking world had the opportunity to both see and hearthe human and creative side of the Kingdom. The crown prince’s out-of-the-box thinking results from his not being motivated solely by growth and development for the Kingdom alone, but for the broader region at large, including Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. He understands that Saudi Arabia’s future economic success and the region’s development are symbiotic.
In 2018, at the second annual Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, the crown prince was uninterested in being merely a political representative of the Kingdom: he assumed the role of regional statesman, praising the economic transformation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and celebrating economic advances across the Middle East. Moreover, he was inclusive in his application of globalization, in that what is advantageous to Saudi Arabia and the region must also benefit the world at large. As the crown prince said then, and has repeated since, the new Europe will be the Middle East.
By focusing on shared opportunities for growth and prosperity, the crown prince shuns hardened religious ideology that offers no prospects for the region or the international community at large. This leads him to navigate uncharted territory and negotiate closer ties with Iran and Israel alike. As he has pointed out, a Saudi normalization agreement with Israel, if it came to pass, would be “the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War.”
While opting not to go into the details on the negotiations, the crown prince expressed his aspiration that anyagreement “reaches a place that will ease the lives of the Palestinians.” Just as normalization is a way to deepening ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, easing the life of the Palestinian people is a springboard to a future situation that can benefit Israel and a future independent Palestine alike.
It is obvious that history is not abstractly formed by impersonal trends, but by great statespeople. No one better illustrates that than the Saudi crown prince, whose lateral and visionary thinking has laid down the gauntlet by challenging American and European business and policy communities alike to associate the Arab world with innovation and modernity.
- Harley Lippman is a board member of the Partnership for Peace Fund of the US Agency for International Development.