The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is rewriting the national narrative emphasizing Saudi nationalism, history and the royal family.
It was first announced on 25 April 2016, the Saudi’s ‘Vision 2030’. Seven years past, its importance has only grown. Every major project that Saudi Arabia has announced, irrespective of any field or industry, traces its origin in one form or another to this majestic document. The document gives an important insight into Saudi Arabia’s future. The Foreword to the Vision 2030 written by His Highness Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is very catchy and relevant.
The Epic Positioning of Saudi Arabia
Every nation is a brand. And every nation’s brand positions itself in the way it chooses to, depending on a range of factors. Saudi Arabia is more than a brand. It is an icon. Yes, the Vision document has successfully positioned Saudi Arabia in an epic and enviable way. The Foreword reads: “The first pillar of our vision is our status as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.”
The above statement is positioning Saudi as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds. The former is a geographic-historical construct, and the latter is primarily a religious-cultural construct. When something is at the heart of a geographic-historical and religious-cultural grid or matrix, it becomes more than a brand: It becomes something iconic!
The Foreword also considers oil to be a God-given gift. But its degree of preciousness is superseded by something else: nevertheless, God, KSA and oil have been used in the same sentence. “We recognize that Allah the Almighty has bestowed on our lands a gift more precious than oil. Our Kingdom is the Land of the Two Holy Mosques, the most sacred sites on earth, and the direction of the Kaaba (Qibla) to which more than a billion Muslims turn at prayer.”
The aim of the Prince can be two-fold here:
- The Prince, recognizing the primacy of oil to Saudi Arabia and its paramount utility in bringing wealth to the nation, wants to situate it in its rightful place.
- The Prince may also want the readers of the text to let sink into them the supremacy of the religious realm over and above the material realm, bringing out the unique order of the powers that underpins the sovereignty of the monarchy, which rests on the present ruling monarch, the sovereign King who himself is depicted as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (and has the ownership of Saudi Aramco, the oil behemoth).
Both these precious ‘elements’, the custodianship of the mosques and ownership of oil, elicit total and unquestioned loyalty and allegiance (backed up by material wealth). He who controls the religio-spiritual and material dimensions of land, in this case, KSA, rules the realm.
Opening Up: Beyond the Muslim World
The Prince is, perhaps, also aware of the barriers present that stand in the way of Muslims from other nations, which prevent or make it difficult for them to access the Holy Sites in Saudi Arabia. “…We will do our utmost to ensure that Muslims from around the world can visit the Holy Sites,” the Prince notes in the Foreword. This is perhaps the first reference of its kind wherein religious tourism is indirectly referred to; (tourism is now being promoted in Saudi Arabia in a big way).
Needless to say, visiting the Holy Sites is a long cherished dream of every religious Muslim on the planet. As more than 1 billion Muslims turn to prayer to the Kaaba, they subconsciously aspire to visit the Kaaba. By facilitating their visit to the Holy Sites, the monarchy can further cement the position of allegiance of the respective Muslims to the KSA and thereby ensure the longevity of the monarchy. The more Muslims visit Saudi Arabia, the greater the soft power that Saudi Arabia can exert and influence. And that is just the beginning!
“…Our Vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method,” the Prince notes, espousing the direction of the wind. “We will welcome qualified individuals from all over the world and will respect those who have come to join our journey and our success,” the Foreword continues to add.
The Control of the Global Village
“The second pillar of our Vision is our determination to become a global investment powerhouse. Our nation holds strong investment capabilities, which we will harness to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues.”—Vision 2030 reads. Saudi Arabia wants to become a global investment powerhouse. Investment is also about ownership and control. Saudi Arabia wants to be a destiny-maker of the global village. The oil wealth amassed by the Kingdom will be utilized to stimulate the domestic economy and to find other sources of revenue for the country.
But how will the KSA achieve this aim? “…We will transform the Public Investment Fund into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund,” the document reads. The vehicle of the proposed aim, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), will be turned into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund so that it can invest at a scale that is unprecedented in the history of humanity. The largest fund invests in the biggest of the plays. But the question lurks: How can you turn something already huge into something larger and then the largest? Answer: The Saudi Royal Family is one of the wealthiest families in the world. They can simply invest in the PIF and fund its expansion!
With oil losing it out to data as the new mobility fluid—the world runs on data now—it makes sense to transform Aramco and allow it to spread its wings wide enough and enable it to touch new horizons of opportunities. The Vision proposes to “transform Aramco from an oil-producing company into a global industrial conglomerate.”
“We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility or external markets,” the Vision document reads. Remember, the biggest company in the world would continue to spawn new enterprises and would grow even bigger and more in number. This will have a high-tide effect, uplifting many other ‘boats’ in the Saudi economy, the wider GCC, Africa, Europe and Asia. “…We will encourage our major corporations to expand across borders and take their rightful place in global markets,” the document says.
“The third pillar is transforming our unique strategic location into a global hub connecting three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. Our geographic position between key global waterways makes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an epicentre of trade and the gateway to the world.” Saudi Arabia wants to have greater strategic leverage over three continents by becoming a hub.
- Africa is resource-rich. Saudi Arabia can amass resources from there.
- Europe is where Saudi Arabia can obtain the technology to process these resources.
- Asia is where it is going to export the finished products and services.
And Saudi Arabia is wealthy enough to do all these and more. KSA also harbours significant naval ambitions. It is already a trading power, and there is little doubt about that. All these endeavours require military capabilities to protect the interests of Saudi Arabia. The ‘Make in Saudi Arabia’ slogan will gain better traction and attract more resources.
“…As we continue to give our army the best possible machinery and equipment, we plan to manufacture half of our military needs within the Kingdom to create more job opportunities for citizens and keep more resources in our country,” the document notes. Diversification and growth are also balanced against economic prudence and the need to create more job opportunities and preserve resources.
Resource Wealth: Humans and Minerals
“Our country is rich in its natural resources. We are not dependent solely on oil for our energy needs. Gold, phosphate, uranium, and many other valuable minerals are found beneath our lands. But our real wealth lies in the ambition of our people and the potential of our younger generation. They are our nation’s pride and the architects of our future.” The document reads.
Here, the Prince compares the mineral wealth of the nation with the potential of the human resources of the nation and tells the world that the latter is the real wealth. Mineral resources are devoid of ambition, but human resources are of a different elemental make!
The Prince, sensing the ambition of the people of KSA, acknowledges the tectonic demographic changes in the landscape. The Prince takes cognizance of the potential of the younger generation, whose levels of ambition and nature of ambition have already undergone a paradigm shift. This marks a pivotal moment in the KSA’s history.
The phenomenon of globalization is finally knocking on the doors of KSA, and there is no option not to answer the call and open the door. Ultimately, what is privatization? It is empowering the citizenry to unleash their true potential through economic self-service. It also means a dilution of the government monopoly, an evolutionary necessity.
Liberalization with Saudi Characteristics
“…We ponder what lies over the horizon rather than worrying about what could be lost,” a segment of the foreword notes. The quoted statement is also a reflection of the Prince’s thinking about the trade-offs involved. Conservatism vs. Liberalism. These are the two forces that would mark any decision by any government entity in KSA. On the one hand, there is a pull of the past and on the other, the tug of the future.
This tug of war would define the stability of the Kingdom over the short to medium term. We are looking at Liberalisation with Saudi characteristics. This will be a new typology that would contribute to the furtherance of the study of humanities and social sciences. And the phenomenon is expected to take the Arab and Islamic cultures by storm. Since the reforms are happening at the heart of Arab and Islamic cultures, they will have their share of effects on the Religious, Historic and Cultural dimensions of the Middle East
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies
Title image courtesy: Times of India