Freedom under duress – Saudi Arabia: Future – decreed from above – News


Women driving cars or starting businesses: All of this was unthinkable ten years ago in Saudi Arabia – and is now a reality. The young Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – also known as MBS – is reforming his country at breakneck speed. He wants to make Saudi Arabia fit for the future, for the post-oil age.

economy of the future

To date, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer in the world, making it one of the twenty richest countries. Oil production is in full swing and flushes a lot of money into the Saudi coffers. But the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels. Crown Prince MBS has also recognized this and is therefore radically restructuring his country.

With its “Vision 2030” reform project, MBS wants to make the Saudi economy independent of oil and transform it into a modern service society – without the country having to lose wealth as a result. One of the future sources of income should be tourism. The flagship project for the “Vision 2030” is the futuristic megacity Neom, which is being built on the Red Sea and which – according to the goal – should be completely climate-neutral.

criticism undesirable

The only 38-year-old Mohammed bin Salman combines a lot of power. He is simultaneously crown prince, de facto ruler and prime minister. His reforms, decreed from above, are being carried out at a rapid pace and are changing the face of Saudi Arabia for the long term: in healthcare, in education, in the financial sector and in sports.

Criticism is largely unplanned in the new Saudi Arabia. Human rights organizations accuse the crown prince of making short work of critics. For example, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in 2018. Again and again, critical bloggers and activists are put in prison.

Religious forces are among the losers of the reforms. These are increasingly isolated. Women can benefit: Today they have more individual freedom than before and can move around more freely. However, they are still not treated on an equal footing with men. For a marriage, for example, they still need the consent of a male guardian.

Unbridled desire for reform

MBS has to be careful not to lose the conservative Saudi population with its irrepressible will to reform. So far, this has benefited from subsidies in various areas of life – financed solely by the oil revenues. With such achievements, the political elite bought tolerance and legitimacy.

But with the restructuring of the economy, the population is being asked to pay more. In 2018, for example, a value added tax of five percent was introduced for the first time. This was then tripled to 15 percent as early as 2020 – the people should contribute more to government spending. Big changes for the subsidy spoiled Saudis. Such reforms can lead to long-term dissatisfaction – especially if the people are not given a greater say at the same time.

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