More than two and a half years ago, I heard for the first time the ideas of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke clearly about a new project and we heard him talk about a plan of a different state with revenues, activities, openness, productivity and global status.
It was something of a myth!
It was a very interesting presentation of a futuristic vision for a great country which begins immediately, and not just another five-year developmental plan. Afterwards, the crown prince opened a session for discussion, and being a visitor, I was the last to comment.
I told him: “Your highness, I have no doubt that what you proposed (which later became Vision 2030) resembles a dream but at the same time, it’s realistic and achievable. However, I have one huge problem. Your highness, you are young, energetic and have a clear vision. What you said in details is amazing and very convincing. However, it’s like you are driving an old car with old tires and machinery. Frankly speaking, with such a car, you will not arrive on time and to the place you want. This is an administrative government of more than 50 years. It’s eroded.”
He smiled and said: “The car must work and if it doesn’t, I will replace the car with another.”
For several interesting and consecutive weeks, we saw the government (the car) dissembled and reformed. It went from being semi-functional to working at full speed. Reformation based on a philosophy with a new comprehensive work mechanism, historic legislation, massive projects, changes on all levels, whether leaders or institutions, and foreign relations with a targeted strategy.
What happened since then is much more than the country witnessed over the past six decades. The future plans will elevate the state’s status.
Some were writing their eulogies for a Saudi Arabia capped off by an all-too-forceful Iran and a compliant Qatar. Its economy was shrinking with the collapse of oil prices, growing bureaucracy, and impossible state commitments towards its citizens and others. Production was bad due to bureaucratic institutions obstructing the society and market by its traditions, while the private sector lived off governmental contracts.
All of the above are being targeted by decisions and arrangements within the framework of the new plan to rebuild the kingdom.
When the recent decisions aiming at fighting corruption, including detentions and arrests, were issued, I recalled Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s insistence and warning that either the car works or it will be replaced.
He carried out certain measures to reform the market prices. He ended constricting social contracts and allowed women to drive, introduced entertainment programs, and laid the foundation for projects that ended oil dependency.
It is not possible to reform the government and achieve the very ambitious vision with the spread of the culture of bribery. Corruption, whether political, social or economic, causes a lot of problems.
Throughout decades, the cost has been high and execution has been low.
This situation cannot keep up with the ambitions of the crown prince who will not settle to just meeting the budget at the end of every year. He vowed to achieve a renaissance project, which he began executing and will continue for another 13 years.
A modern state capable of assuming its responsibilities must be transparent, fair, efficient and productive. We cannot expect the crown prince to impose the idea of women driving, for instance, on those who are against development in society without resolving corruption problems, no matter how high the ranks reach.
We now know him. Prince Mohammed bin Salman opposes the policy of postponing solutions that has been going on for decades, whether when confronting a harmful country like Qatar or a hired group like the Houthis or allowing extremists to hinder society’s development or allowing corrupt people to plunder the state.
The crown prince insists on making Saudi Arabia a modern, strong and successful state with an economy among the world’s top ten, and not just top twenty. He wants the kingdom to be a bigger regional power.
I’ll conclude what I began my piece with. A few weeks ago, I saluted his highness for the amazing decisions. He asked me: “What do you think? Did the car work?” I said: “At an amazing speed," to which he replied: "We have not started yet.”
Who would have imagined that this is the same slow and worn out Saudi Arabia that was two years ago?