Saudi Arabia, arguably, the practitioner of the strictest form of Islam in the world has hinted for a paradigm shift in their culture. The call for change has come from none other than the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The reforms, very generically speaking, are what he described as “return to moderate Islam”. While describing his plans, he took a jibe at Iran stating the 1979 Revolution was responsible for the hard line approach of Saudi Arabia as it was reaction to the Iran’s revolution. “Saudi was not like this before 1979. Saudi Arabia and the entire region went through a revival after 1979 … All we are doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people,” he said.
Mohammed bin Salman is the first person of Saudi Royal family to have openly declared the moderate religious stand as the future direction of the nation. He vehemently attacked the extremist thoughts and distractive stance of the Saudi youths and claimed that 70 percent of the Saudi population is below the age of 30 and they should be insulated from terrorism and extremism. “In all honesty, we will not spend 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideologies. We will destroy them today and immediately,” he said.
His “Vision 2030” encompasses socio-cultural as well as economic change, where the Kingdom tries to deviate from the oil dependency and petro dollar. The changing global economic order has presaged this call for change. The United States is no longer a major oil client of Saudi Arabia. The diversification of the oil producers away from the OPEC countries has led to the fall in the oil prices that refuse to appreciate even after two years since its plummeting. Saudi Arabia, along with other oil dependent Gulf Nations are facing the heat of such development. Perhaps, crown prince Salman’s new vision is a result of such changing economic scenario.
Salman has also planned three economic megacities with a budget $2 trillion to be built across three countries, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Prince Salman’s “Vision 2030” is an effort to integrate Saudi Arabia with the western world, especially United States. To make this vision successful, the kingdom needs cooperation from various nations, which includes people to people contact. With such hard line Islamic rules in place, it will be difficult for Saudis to attract foreign workers (in the form of foreign expertise) from the non-Muslim countries. Bin Salman claimed, “Some clear steps were taken recently and I believe we will obliterate the remnants of extremism very soon,” which include the first music concert in decades and right to drive for women.
However, it remains to be seen how much Bin Salman can deliver. If his vision is in isolation in the Saudi Royal family, he might face resistance from his colleagues and the religious leaders. However, the need of the hour is the change in Saudi socio-economic policy and Bin Salman is entrusted with enormous power by his father, King Salman that can assist him delivering the promises he is making.