Socio-Economic Reforms in Saudi Arabia. How far can these reforms prevail?


Everyone sees Saudi Arabia as a conservative country with oil and strict religious laws, where women wear veils and other restrictions are there on citizens. But when the new crown prince “Muhammad Bin Salman” came into power, he came up with a vision of reforming the country under “vision 2030.” Currently, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going through a wave of new socio-economic reforms under the vision 2030 of MBS, where women will get more rights and tourists will soon be welcomed, the primary objective of the vision is to diversify the national economy and its dependency on oil to other means by developing private and public sectors such as tourism, health, and infrastructure.

There are a few analytical tools and methods for having a better understanding of the future such as “Trends impact” and “Horizon scanning.”  These indicators center on emerging issues that may gain strength in the future and lead to systemic change. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the dependence of its national economy on a scarce resource (oil) has created a vacuum for systemic change under the new reforms.

Saudi Arabia’s mega advancement project ‘Vision 2030′ has now entered its fifth year. From the day April 2016 when it was launched, it focused on a very fundamental dimension of Saudi Arabia’s economic and social transformation. Fundamentally, it’s a currency chart, designed to transform the kingdom from an oil state to a modern industrial production economy. Its overall goal is to build a private sphere that promotes a self-sufficient economy, an open and vibrant culture, and an ambitious nation.

Meanwhile, in the past five years, streaks of minor to major changes have been seen in KSA, such as opening cinema halls, allowing women to drive and can travel abroad without a male guardian, allowing businesses and shops to remain open during prayer times, and decision of doing amendments in the national anthem and green flag and ending the death penalty for the minors. All these socio-economic reforms are part of vision 2030 of de-facto leader MBS, who is trying to open up the country’s oil-reliant economy.

Meanwhile, in today’s Saudi Arabia, the women got representation in “Shura” (the Saudi version of parliament), which is composed of representatives from all regions including women representatives, appointed by King himself and in job sectors, as an incentive the women are encouraged and prioritized over men to get the job. Because the ambitious crown prince wants women to also contribute to the growth of the national economy.

Recently, they also launched the Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) where they eased and provided relaxation to working laborers from other countries who are working in Saudi Arabia, under this initiative they are allowed to switch their job and also allowed to leave the country without the permission of their employer. The employer licensing is still considered important, but it is not as critical as it was before these reforms, where the Saudi administration believes that such initiative can have a good impact on Kingdom’s job market competition and efficiency.

Moreover, for the years the Arab countries banned together Israel but some countries including Saudi Arabia started rethinking that, and KSA become the first Arab country to put normalization with Israel on the table because the crown prince wanted to pursue whatever he saw as modernizing Saudi Arabia, and that’s the main driver behind the normalization of ties with Israel in the region. This could lead to political changes in the Middle East. Where the U.S also showed its interest in the success of MBS’ vision 2030. Normalizing the ties with Israel’s Arab neighbors is a big win for “Netanyahu” where Saudi Arabia would be the top price. The Crown Prince sees it as good for business and the national economy and isolates Iran in the region. But for the Palestinians, it can be considered as a big betrayal.

It is a bold move taken by the crown prince of KSA to change the image of a historically oil-dependent and traditionally conservative kingdom. Elevated objectives, regardless, ‘Vision 2030’ is a hard deal, both locally and globally. Its ability to succeed is inevitably marked by question marks. Some critics predict its slow decline, while others predict its future. Realistically, ‘Vision 2030’ looks more yet to be determined. Its ability to succeed is truly subverted by the progress of domestic and regional barriers.

Regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, the ‘Vision 2030’ may end up being a two-sided deal or it may prove to be a double-edged sword: its disappointment might release domestic chaos and instability with regional overflow impacts; its prosperity might even more than this encourage Mohammad Bin Salman to elevate the Saudi nationalist narrative to firmly push for a regional superior position reproducing more conflicts and savagery in the Middle East.

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