Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a 3-country tour this past week that saw him land in Egypt last Monday, followed by a trip to Jordan where he met up with King Abdullah in Amman a day later. He soon followed it with a trip to Turkey to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. The stated purpose of the trips to the regional countries is to bolster ties as stated by a Saudi diplomat.
It is understood that the Crown Prince will engage in a broad range of subjects including “regional and international files and the future of international cooperation.” A host of investment and energy deals are expected to be agreed upon and signed. The Crown Prince has undertaken these trips shortly before the expected arrival to the Kingdom of US President Joe Biden.
In that the Crown Prince is a very busy man and has been actively engaged in promoting the Kingdom to become the powerhouse in the region is beyond question. Saudi Arabia today has risen to a leading powerhouse in the region and in the process has shed its ‘follower’ mantle. Today, it is the kingdom that sets the tone, and others are expected to follow.
All this has to be credited to King Salman and his son, the Crown Prince or MBS as he is popularly known. Years and years of neglect and entrenchment in dated values and norms dictated by a powerful religious establishment had the country lagging behind all others in the GCC in terms of progress and development. What made it heart-rending was that Saudi Arabia is the most populous and richest country within the GCC but until recently had very little global recognition in that regard.
This was a country that was embroiled in deep discussions about the ‘mingling’ of the genders, the ban on females on driving and working in so many fields, the unwelcome persona presented to foreign visitors, and to so much more that was not deemed ‘proper’ that it ended up making the country a very difficult place to live.
Several years ago, I wrote about how there was a massive shift of Saudi professionals and especially women moving to neighbouring countries to exercise their passions in business and industry, a venue not available to them in their own homelands. How things have changed today.
There is a massive shift back to their homeland from many who had left as they sense that the opportunities the kingdom offers today are far more favourable than others in the region. They are also well aware of the breaking down of barriers that followed the ascent of the MBS onto Saudi leadership, be it socially, judicially, or in the field of economics.
As one lady venture capitalist told me, “Today there are no limits to how far you can go and especially as a woman. I challenge any woman to look me in the eye and tell me there are social taboos that prevent her from succeeding in any business she so desires to get in. The barriers of the past are history and will never return to haunt us. We will not allow them to under our judicious leadership.”
Indeed, policies promoted by MBS including Vision 2030 have Saudis excited about what the future is in store for them. They all do not expect overnight miracles as the process to divest themselves from a torpid past is expected to take a bit of time. The minds of a bureaucracy trained in old ways for decades will be addressed in days, weeks, and months — bringing further joy to a previously dismayed public.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has elevated the country into a global source of much-needed oil, and Saudi Arabia is carefully choosing what is best in its own interests. Massive projects that require windfall investment from rising oil prices are not easy to ignore or dismiss, and the country comes first.
During his trips MBS is assuring world leaders that the country does not seek to destabilise other economies and nor is it in its interests to do so. The prudent policies laid out by King Salman and Crown Prince are beginning to mature and bring a boon to the Saudi public.
Such recognition, sometimes overlooked by western media, can only spell good fortune for the country and its people under the stable and dynamic leadership of its King and the youthful Crown Prince.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena