Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the G20 in a difficult year should be welcomed as the Kingdom moves into a new era of openness and diversification.
On my last visit to Saudi Arabia, I met a group of young Saudi Arabians returning from the West, some of whom had completed their studies there, and others who were on a training visit to acquire specific specialized skills. Highly ambition and beaming with talent, they were extremely optimistic about a bright and promising future for their country.
Since King Salman bin Abdulaziz assumed the reins of government in 2015, his constant focus on empowering the youth, providing them with opportunities, and supporting them in attaining high positions has not been abstract — the energy of the youth I met showed the plan is being put into action.
King Salman’s greatest inspiration to the Saudi youth was to appoint Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. Conversations with the Kingdom’s many young people (half the Saudi population is under the age of 25) are full of positivity about a young, dynamic, tech-savvy prince at the helm of their nation as a hope for the wider region.
On the march of development and liberation is the Kingdom’s emancipation from its “addiction” to oil, as Prince Mohammed bin Salman once described it. Alongside economic strength, the Crown Prince is committed to eliminating the religious extremism that has infiltrated our societies. All this feeds into the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, from the privatization of Saudi Aramco, the largest company in the world by market value, to the construction of the city of Neom on the Red Sea coast, a project that is worth half a trillion dollars, and “a leap for human civilization” as the Crown Prince described. The vision can be summarized as consisting of three pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.
And since the economy alone does not lead the country to social safety and national stability, it has become necessary to invest in people and motivate the community. The Kingdom has already embarked on a series of mega projects to create an open, tolerant society that looks forward to the future and builds on its heritage and ancient past at the same time. In support of the efforts exerted in implementing socio-economic reforms, the government is working on increasing its effectiveness by enhancing and improving transparency and accountability, and yet without neglecting its regional and international political role.
King Salman and his Crown Prince are aware of the Kingdom’s extensive responsibilities, especially at the regional level, where most of the traditional Arab powers are suffering political and economic crises, wars, and fragmentation. This context means that the Kingdom has been compelled to take have imposed an unprecedented and active foreign policy, operating out of responsibility and within regional institutional frameworks, particularly in the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Unlike the governments of Turkey or Iran, Saudi Arabia does not have regional and international ambitions for domination and manipulation. Instead, the Kingdom aims for a stable and secure Middle Eastern society, which has prompted it to deal firmly in both its immediate and broader neighborhood. The Kingdom has done so in complete independence and without relying solely on its traditional alliance with the United States, as Riyadh’s pursuit of diversifying its international partners has made clear.
King Salman and his Crown Prince have worked to diversify Saudi Arabia’s sources of economic income and international relations through a new vision that is in line with the Kingdom’s regional and international stature. Over time, this diversification will bring about important changes to the regional and perhaps international geopolitical landscape.
In all these respects, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is moving into a new era, with openness as its first and most prominent feature. Riyadh is moving steadily towards achieving the goals of its vision within a precise and accurate timetable. Oil and energy markets are being adapted and continue to function.
Despite this new and dynamic direction, and Saudi Arabia’s diverse and multiple achievements, the Kingdom faces many reactionaries, extremists, and enemies of success. Not only are they here lingering in the region, but they have revolutionary support bases in the West among some naïve activists who do not understand Saudi Arabia. What do they want? Saudi Arabia is on a reform path and the Crown Prince is working to modernize a youthful nation. Their revolutions in the last century have failed Iran, Iraq and other nations. Reform, not revolution, is the path forward.
Saudi Arabia is the cornerstone of confronting the Iranian hegemonic project, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Neo-Ottomanism, and terrorism in all its forms. The Kingdom also has the greatest capacity to solve outstanding Arab issues and is the region’s engine for growth. Saudi successes will be reflected in prosperity for everyone.
As this turbulent year ends, and the Kingdom leads the G20, we should all rally around Saudi Arabia with support and solidarity; Saudi Arabia’s progress through the successful realization of its reform program is the key to progress in the Middle East and beyond.