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Saturday, 13 June 2020

The Complete Renovation of Saudi Arabia

Nobody landing at Riyadh airport can't miss the billboards. Every government institution bears a logo, even the once terrifying religious police. Women can buy a long, traditional dress covered with the same branding. "Vision 2030" is everywhere in Saudi Arabia. The grand plan for transforming society and the economy is determined by the leadership of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who strengthened his power in 2017, to introduce changes that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. And every decision, from imprisoning compatriots in the name of fighting corruption, to enabling women to drive vehicles and lift restrictions on entertainment, aims to ensure the success and legacy of the young prince. 

While in 2019 it was about selling shares in the Aramco oil mammoth, this year was to show the next stage of progress, as Saudi Arabia welcomes world leaders from a group of 20 people. New desert cities are being built from scratch, as are completely new industries from defense to tourism. But then came the oil price war escalated by Prince Mohammed, and an unforeseen shock in the world of the coronavirus pandemic. Now there are questions about how real "Vision 2030" is. Why is this important Prince Mohammed has a lot to do with his national transformation, which he first presented in an interview in 2016. The goal is to tear Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, from petrodollars, which kept the country shortly after oil was discovered in the eastern province eight decades ago.

Despite the loosening of the harsh Islamic brand and new job opportunities praised by thousands of Saudis, the country became more authoritarian under the leadership of the prince. The authorities imprisoned activists and silenced the conservative wahhabi clergy who exercised so much control over Saudi life. The message is clear: you are with or against Vision 2030. Internationally, the kingdom conducted a failed boycott of Qatar, sparked a war in Yemen, and indignated when it turned out that its agents brutally murdered Saudi publicist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Since then, the government has reduced energy subsidies, added new taxes and fees, and removed obstacles that prevented women from taking a leading role in business. 

But when the economy experiences a deep contraction and the world enters a new era after the pandemic, the Vision itself is facing spending cuts when money is diverted to public health and business aid. Keeping the Vision on the right track - followed by a young population - has become much more difficult. The budget deficit of Saudi Arabia is to be one of the largest in the GCC.

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