Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

New Saudi crown prince named

How we should judge reform in Saudi Arabia, a society adjusting to much change


A 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman replaced his 58-year-old cousin Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince of Saudi Arabia this past June.

The unprecedented move by King Salman to usurp the line of succession led most analysts to conclude that the change occurred as a final designation of bin Salman as the leader to take Saudi Arabia into the 21st century.

This hypothesis appears to be correct, as since the transition of power, the country’s politics have been flushed with change.

Within the past six weeks alone, women have had new doors opened for them in the country.

They have been granted the right to drive, as well as to attend public sporting events.

Though these changes won’t be implemented until 2018, they are still significant for the notoriously repressive regime of one of the last absolute monarchies on earth.

Additionally, the government has created a massive anti-corruption task force, motivated by a vow from the prince himself to weed out corruption starting from the top levels downward.

This has translated into a mass roundup of officials, most of whom are members of the royal family, with an unprecedented amount of charges being filed.

This kind of modernization coupled with state accountability has been unheard of in the kingdom until now, prompting many to theorize about what these actions imply about Salman’s motives and vision for the nation.

Some commentators have been drawing comparisons between Salman’s actions and those of Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping’s in the wake of their respective ascensions to authority.

Both men massively consolidated their power by eliminating many of their oligarchical rivals under the guise of anti-corruption efforts.

The crown prince’s efforts are thought to perhaps be signs of a similar power grab, logic which is especially supported by the fact that many of his prominent cousins have been among the first arrests, most notably the former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

However, what is different between Salman and other semi-autocrats of this century is the massive change he is bent on introducing in his country.

Power grabs usually come amongst waves of nationalist rhetoric; new leaders trying to consolidate power usually try to consolidate ideology at the same time. Salman is an exception to this general pattern, as his “Vision 2030” has been the guiding principle in all his policy decisions.

The prince’s “Vision 2030” outlines the path he believes Saudi Arabia must take within the next 13 years to become economically sustainable.

The plan centers on heavy emphasis towards economic diversity and encouraging international investment in the Saudi business community.

According to Forbes, currently “The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 87 percent of budget revenues, 42 percent of GDP, and 90 percent of export earnings” for the Saudi economy.

Such singular dependence has created problems for the kingdom in the past, as changes in the oil market have catastrophic consequences for every aspect of fiscal policy.

The prince’s efforts to open up the economy will ultimately benefit both the Saudi people in transitioning to having access to a larger portfolio of economic choices, as well as granting access to a previously untapped market for many multinational corporations.

However, in order for this dream to become a reality, the Saudi monarchy is going to have to not just open their borders financially, but also socially, a reality which the crown prince is keenly aware of.

Drawing in business will require massive reform in a country famous for its human rights abuses.

This leaves analysts and ordinary citizens alike to consider the question, if the motives for reform are not pure, should we still celebrate the progress?

Even if there are more sinister underlying reasons behind recent reform efforts, I think it should be considered negligible in favor of celebrating the opportunities that will arise.

Business opportunities allow individuals to have access to more choices. If the public has increased access to information via the business community, it will ultimately drive social change over time.

Financial benefits coming with strings attached is an arrangement that will only benefit both sides.

Stabilizing the Saudi economy, as well as making room for freedom, is the best case scenario for all parties involved, and at this point in time it seems to be the goal the monarchy is working towards.

While the situation could still change, currently there is enough reason to be optimistic about the future of Saudi Arabia.

Never before have we seen any attempts from the kingdom to achieve equal rights for women or for rooting out government corruption.

If our influence is the catalyst for these reforms, then we must be using our leverage effectively.

For now, the international community will have to await the invitation to start accelerating the rate of development in rapidly changing Saudi Arabia.

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