Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

What Is Happening in Saudi Arabia?!

I shall introduce my article by quoting this sentence from the Western media. It paves the way for much of what I would like to say. “As the world plunges into crisis, Saudi Arabia seems set to become a modern superpower.”

As some had been betting on the imminent downfall of the Kingdom and its standing as a major regional power becoming a thing of the past, Saudi Arabia was busy renewing itself. It is making itself anew, launching a process of reinvigoration and renewal that has already left its mark on every domain.

This time, oil is not the sole source of income, as the Kingdom is rediscovering sources of strength - its religious standing and stature, mineral wealth, human capital, and geographical position - that had not been tapped into. What has happened in a mere few years is remarkable. Its progress has gone against all the skeptics’ dreams.

Until recently, talk of Saudi Vision 2030 seemed fantastical; that’s how the skeptics had seen it in any case. However, the Kingdom’s actions have spoken loudly. The evidence began accumulating swiftly. At an increasingly rapid pace, we saw project after project and success after success.

Until 2015, Riyadh’s standing as a political and economic power stemmed from a robust religious legacy due to its housing of the Two Holy Mosques and the honor of managing them and serving the visitors - those performing Hijra and Umrah - who flock to them. However, it did not concern itself with capitalizing on the potential that other fields presented, which hindered its ability to branch out.

The modern Saudi methodology was based on benefiting from all sources, diversifying sources of income, building innovative strong arms, in addition to maximizing the impact of the returns of all possible resources.

In the past, everyone spoke of the “American dream.” The successes of Singapore and South Korea were celebrated next. In every field, one finds a pioneering country that is taken as a reference... Our success has led many around the world to refer to the Kingdom as a modern developmental state, setting the standard regionally in an array of domains and leading the world in a number of fields. The West was betting - and it still is - on democracy being a necessary prerequisite for any serious achievements, and it now has found out that monarchies have their own recipe.

The amazing thing about Saudi Arabia’s progress is how quickly it is being made. Decades worth of work has been completed in a matter of years. This rate of progress required strong will from the state, sound planning, exceptional components, solid human capital, and strong willingness on the part of society to go along with these major transformations and changes.

All of that had been available, waiting for someone to tie everything together. And so, we saw what no one had been expecting to unfold. The dream of the Saudis, which others do not share - and some even worked to prevent - was achieved. I will make do with these remarks.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his development project arrived, finding enthusiastic support awaiting them. Everyone - without exception - played their part in his ambitious project and turning his vision into reality. Everyone found something in themselves in this process for change, per their expertise, concerns, desires, and needs.

I do not deny, nor would any reasonable person, that this immense project faces serious challenges. However, the speed and flexibility with which these hurdles have been overcome are remarkable. It is not unusual to hear of projects or initiatives being canceled, developed, or merged, or the particular circumstances that come with each of them being responded to in a manner that reflects positively on the fundamental objectives of overarching structure.

The declaration of war on extremism was perhaps the most consequential step, as it has laid the groundwork for everything else. Early on, Saudi Arabia led a domestic project to combat extremism... militarily, intellectually, in the media, and financially. To this end, the Kingdom has supported state bodies and established alliances and centers, thereby foiling the project of the extremists and sowing the seeds of development.

The way I see it, if another country had tried to curb extremism under similar circumstances, we would have found what we could call catastrophes…. Calamities would have emerged as a natural outcome of the comprehensive changes to collective thinking, but this did not happen in Saudi Arabia. The project to “destroy them now… immediately” went precisely according to plan. The best possible outcome was achieved with the least possible amount of damage incurred. However, where are the just assessments?

Despite everything that has been achieved, it is merely the first seed of an immense Saudi tree. We will see massive projects that had not been achieved anywhere else in the world, economic cities being constructed, investments being drawn, entrepreneurs being supported, leading innovations being made in new fields, and many other things… All of this is part of a process through which real progress is being made. The outline of some of this progress is already apparent, while other aspects require more time.

A long period of stagnation had weighed down on the desire to respond at the beginning, but successive achievements have taken the genie out of the bottle. An unprecedented developmental renaissance awaits us. The impact of this process will go beyond our geographical borders, encompassing all the countries that endeavor to join us and become our partners in this development project. Indeed, the region has long been awaiting such a project after decades of suffering from conflicts and crises.