By Gabriel Wacks and Paisley Meyer
Saudi Arabia, a country whose economy is almost entirely dependent on oil, is undertaking one of the boldest economic development plans in history. The Saudi Vision 2030, a massive economic stimulus and construction program, is an attempt to diversify the Saudi economy. By 2030, Saudi leaders hope to transition Saudi Arabia from a single-resource state into a sophisticated financial and trade hub. This will be accompanied by the creation of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, a massive expansion of the tourism industry, and the construction of a megacity powered entirely by renewable resources. Additionally, this will be accompanied by a major restructuring of Saudi domestic and foreign policy. These changes are being orchestrated by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, who is in the process of consolidating his control over the kingdom.
The Saudi Vision 2030 is broken down into three primary categories: “A Vibrant Society”, “A Thriving Economy”, and “An Ambitious Nation”. Each of these themes promote ambitious projects meant to reform Saudi Arabia. “A Vibrant Society” focuses on enhancing Islamic values and creating a hospitable environment for Muslims on pilgrimage to Islam’s most sacred sites: Mecca and Medina. The government is also looking to use this plan to enhance national identity by preserving and restoring cultural and historic sites. This plan will also include the construction of the world’s largest Islamic museum. This museum will teach visitors about Islam’s development and spread as a major religion, house scientific and cultural documents from the medieval Islamic world, and host a major library and cultural research center.
The Saudi government is doing more than just renovating its cultural and religious sites; it is also attempting to build the foundation for an efficient, transparent, and financially stable country. One of the goals of “An Ambitious Nation” is the pledge to not impose income taxes or retail taxes on basic necessities. The plan will focus heavily on maintaining a balanced budget without placing a financial burden on their citizens’ earnings. Saudi Arabia is promoting fiscal independence and charitable contributions to the less fortunate in order to strengthen national unity. This development of the nonprofit sector is the cornerstone for “An Ambitious Nation”, and Saudi Arabia is also investing in areas such as primary education, healthcare, and research.
Vision 2030 goes beyond the social and cultural goals of “A Vibrant Society” and “An Ambitious Nation” because the government is also seeking to diversify its revenue sources with the goals outlined in “A Thriving Economy”. Saudi Arabia has been well-aware of the instability that comes with relying on a single resource for a majority of state revenue. With recent drops in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s economic growth has been jeopardized. To combat this, the Saudi government is working to develop its mining sector and expand the infrastructure needed to promote further resource exploration and extraction. This should create around 90,000 new jobs. It also seeks to invest heavily in wind and solar power, with the aim of producing 9.5 gigawatts by 2030. However, not all of its development is restricted to the primary sector. The government is seeking to expand the service sector of the economy, as well as attract and train highly-skilled workers. Another goal is for five Saudi universities to place within the top two hundred internationally-ranked institutions of learning, in order to attract bright, young minds from around the world. With these and other initiatives, Saudi Arabia has set in motion a project designed to shed its developing nation status and become the uncontested top economic power of the Muslim world.
In order to cement these goals, Saudi Arabia is planning the construction of a new city on the northwestern coast of Hejaz, close to the Jordanian border. This city, which will be known as Neom, will be a technologically advanced metropolis powered by renewable energy . It will serve as the financial and economic gateway into Saudi Arabia for European and Levantine investment. This megacity will house a bridge linking Saudi Arabia to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, connecting North Africa to the Middle East without crossing Israeli territory. If successful, this city to serve to tie together the two hemispheres of the Arab World and expand Saudi economic influence into North Africa.
The Saudi government is pushing for these major economic and social reforms as a component of its modernization program. The main goal is to curry favor with the Saudi public and make Saudi Arabia a far more attractive place for investment. However, Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms have been coupled with a massive political crackdown. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, has begun a consolidation of power under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign. This has led to the imprisonment of many of crown prince’s relatives, as well as many of Saudi Arabia’s business and political leaders. The public support for the crown prince due to Vision 2030 will almost certainly dissuade any potential detractors from the problems posed by the power grab.
In conclusion, this economic and social liberalization, which has been well-received throughout the country, serves two purposes. In addition to developing the country’s economy, it is an excellent distraction from the consolidation of power. In order to ensure that this social and economic transition progresses smoothly, Mohammed bin Salman’s political power must be consolidated, and building popular support among the citizens and business leaders will aid in this. These grand construction progress, loosening of religious strictures, and economic stimulus will serve well to distract the public from the political crackdown and ideally exhibit the appearance of a well-developed society.
 Vision 2030 (2017, November). Retrieved from http://vision2030.gov.sa/en
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 Kinninmont, J (2017, July). Vision 2030 and Saudi Arabia’s Social Contract: Austerity and Transformation. Chatham House. Retrieved from https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/publications/research/2017-07-20-vision-2030-saudi-kinninmont.pdf
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