A Saudi push to become a major natural gas player is as much about diversifying the kingdom’s domestic consumption and export mix as it is about taking advantage of harsh US economic sanctions against Iran designed to force a change of the Islamic republic’s policy, if not its regime.
The sale speaks to the ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Aramco, that seeks to become a major gas player by partnering with producers across the globe, including in the Russian Artic, and developing its own reserves.
Aramco expects the partnerships to position it as major marketer and trader, primarily in the spot and short-term markets.
Those discussions are certain not to include Qatar and Iran, two of the region and the world’s foremost producers and the kingdom’s primary regional bete noirs.
If anything, the Saudi move is not only part of its longer-term efforts to reduce its dependence on oil exports and diversify its economy but also an attempt to take advantage of the fact that Iran is severely hampered by the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against it.
The waivers granted the eight countries exemptions to sanctions imposed last year after the United States withdrew from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
Similarly, with the development of Saudi gas exports and sales also intended to chip away at Qatar’s market share, the Gulf state is not an option.
Qatar’s diversification of its exports was a key factor in its ability to so far fend off a 23-month old Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott that, like in the case of Iran, is designed to force it to change its policies.
The two sides’ entrenched positions offer no prospect of a resolution of the dispute any time soon.
Saudi long-term gas ambitions could have shorter term consequences for its regional policies, particularly with regard to Iran.
The kingdom, perceived to be a proponent of regime change in Tehran, may prefer a substantial weakening of the Iranian government that keeps it contained and struggling to make ends meet, rather than the rise of a leadership acceptable to the West that would be allowed to quickly regain its place in global energy markets.
Striving for regime collapse rather than regime change would also allow Saudi Arabia to dampen prospects for Iran’s Indian-backed port of Chabahar, a mere 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast from Gwadar, the Chinese-supported port in Pakistani Balochistan.
Saudi Arabia has pledged to build a US$10 billion refinery in Gwadar.
Saudi plans to develop its gas industry suggest that the kingdom needs a decade to realize them.
“We are looking to shift from only satisfying our utility industry in the kingdom, which will happen especially with the increase in renewable and nuclear to be an exporter of gas and gas products,” Mr. Nasser said.
“Aramco’s international gas team has been given an open platform to look at gas acquisitions along the whole supply chain. They have been given significant financial firepower — in the billions of dollars,” he added.
Access to the project’s gas would allow Saudi Arabia to negotiate long-term deals and/or sell cargoes on the spot market or increase domestic supply.
Saudi Arabia is also looking to buy natural gas assets in the United States.
A Saudi-Russian deal in the Artic would likely not only enhance the kingdom’s position but also bring Saudi Arabia, a member of OPEC, and Russia, which is not formally part of the cartel, closer together in their joint management of global oil supplies.
In a world of rising economic nationalism, Saudi gas ambitions are not being universally welcomed.
While there is little doubt that the Trump administration will look favourably at Saudi investment, some analysts are raising red flags.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.
Growth in Saudi Arabia’s economy will slow slightly this year, creating a challenge in terms of generating enough jobs for its citizens, an economist has told Zawya.
A new Economic Insight: Middle East Q1 2019 report published by accountancy body ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) and Oxford Economics said that it expects economic growth in the Kingdom to slow marginally in 2019 to 2 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2019 as oil revenue falls due to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-mandated production cuts and “only a modest acceleration in non-oil activity” due to the challenging business environment.
The report said that although it expects growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector to grow by 2.6 percent this year, supported both by an expansionary fiscal policy and reforms aimed at boosting the private sector, hiring activity remains “subdued”.
Mohamed Bardastani, ICAEW economic advisor and Middle East senior economist at Oxford Economics, told Zawya in a telephone interview that the jobs market in Saudi Arabia has been “extremely challenging, and we don’t see it changing any time this year”.
He explained that that in the two years between the end of 2016 and the end of last year, the country’s Labour Force Survey showed that more than 1.5 million jobs were lost among expats – a result of “the economic slowdown, various fiscal consolidation measures, but most importantly the measures that the government took in terms of applying expat levies and expat dependent fees on private sector companies”, Bardastani said.
“The private sector, historically speaking, has been relying on expat workers. Around 80 percent of the private sector is made up of expat workers. So obviously, this will have ramifications on growth,” he said.
Moreover, unemployment among Saudi nationals remains stubbornly high at 12.7 percent, considerably above the 7 percent target set under the kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals.
“Historically speaking, the public sector most of the time absorbed the new job entrants. This is one of the main challenges in Saudi right now. I think it is the most pressing challenge, where you have around a 12-7-12.8 (percent) unemployment rate and you have around 400,000 graduates (each year), and then job creation is relatively weak,” he said.
Bardastani said that the government faces a difficult choice, “between either absorbing those new job market entrants and increasing its spending, which will lead to higher budget deficits” or continuing to push through reforms in the expectation that they create enough opportunities for private sector companies to generate jobs.
“I think, for sure, that’s going to take some time,” he said.
The survey also stated that it expects faster non-oil growth in the United Arab Emirates, but again a limited increase in employment opportunities.
Growth in the non-oil economy is set to increase to 2.1 percent this year, up from 1.3 percent in 2018, on the back of expansionary budgets and “pro-growth government initiatives”, such as the 50 billion dirham ($13.6 billion) ‘Ghadan 21’ initiative in Abu Dhabi, but job creation has slowed in key sectors, including services and manufacturing.
Bardastani said firms that have seen input costs rising have been unable to increase selling prices due to competitive pressures.
“So you have this squeeze in profitability margins. Many firms are becoming more efficient in terms of producing the output – they have to do more with less resources. That’s why job creation has been weak.”
A jobs survey also published on Wednesday by recruitment firm Michael Page was more upbeat on the prospects for Saudi jobseekers, stating that 64 percent of respondents were positive about the current job market in the kingdom. It also said 86 percent of respondents said that they expect the jobs market in Saudi Arabia to improve over the next six months.
In a press release announcing the survey results, Michael Page Saudi Arabia’s operating director, Domenic Falzarano, said: “Given the kingdom’s commitment to its Vision 2030, the bulk of the hiring is taking place in the financial services, infrastructure, entertainment, tourism and healthcare sectors.”
(Reporting by Michael Fahy; Editing by Mily Chakrabarty)
With no details reported on the final electricity price agreed for a 500 MW solar project to be built in Oman, speculation will center on whether the victorious Saudi power company and its Kuwaiti partners have again trumped lower offers from overseas rivals. The winning ACWA says:
With big players from France, Korea, China, Spain, India, Turkey and the U.K. all having expressed an interest in developing a 500 MW solar park in Oman, the organizing body will have surprised hardly anybody by eventually settling on a winning consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and two Kuwaiti partners.
The winner was reportedly announced late on Sunday night by Kuwait’s state-owned news agency KUNA. pv magazine has been unable to verify that decision, which was reported by news wire Reuters yesterday.
According to the Reuters report, ACWA and partners the Gulf Investment Corporation and the Alternative Energy Projects Co have landed the contract to develop the project at Ibri, 300 km west of Muscat.
Originally announced as a $500 million project, the Ibri scheme is now being reported as a $400 million plant but the commissioning date of early 2021 is unchanged.
The decision of commissioning body the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) will come as a fresh snub to French energy giant EDF, which last year submitted the lowest bid for a 300 MW scheme in Saudi Arabia – SAR0.06697/kWh ($0.018) for the energy generated – only to lose out to ACWA despite the Saudi company offering a higher tariff of SAR0.08872. The Reuters report did not carry any details of final negotiated power tariffs in the Omani procurement exercise.
EDF was one of 12 bidders shortlisted by the OPWP after an initial request for expressions of interest attracted 28 enquiries from around the world. Indian state-owned utility NTPC Ltd was filtered out at the first stage but that left big solar companies including Engie, X-ELIO, Hanwha Q Cells, BP, Chint, GCL New Energy and Abengoa in the running.
The OPWP announced in November there were three consortia left standing, with ACWA and its partners joined by a group made up of Chinese manufacturing giant Jinko Solar, French oil major Total and state-owned Abu Dhabi concern Masdar; and a third bid, from Japan’s Marubeni Corp and the Oman Gas Company.
Al Jazeera’s Middle East showcased this story in pictures of certain peoples of the Arabian peninsula. Amongst their present wide and diverse variety, the Flower Men of Saudi Arabia are exceptionally unique in their well held till today customs.
These are the Descendants
of the ancient Tihama and Asir, fierce warriors, reclusive tribesmen, and
lovers of floral headwear.
Halah Al Hamrani is a Saudi martial arts instructor and owner of the FLAG (Fight Like a Girl) Boxing gym in Jeddah. A pioneer in the emerging Saudi women’s fitness industry, Halah teaches women to challenge themselves and push their limits.
Women in Saudi Arabia have typically been discouraged from sports, but as the country starts to open itself up to the outside world and modernising forces are at work in Saudi society, all that is starting to change – Halah is at the forefront of that movement.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Halah to find out how she made it to where she is today, her thoughts on the social changes sweeping her country, and what inspires her to keep pushing boundaries.
“It all started with my love for martial arts, which began when I was twelve. I studied many different styles starting with karate and then going into Muy Thai and kickboxing when I went to the US to study in San Diego. But when I came back to Saudi Arabia, I realised that there was nothing available within sports for women – in fact, it wasn’t huge for men, either.
It was my mother who gave me the idea. She suggested I start teaching, since I was struggling to find a job in the field that I studied – Environmental Studies. I started teaching classes in my parents house, reaching people only through word of mouth – it was before the era of social media! Fast forward to around three years ago, and my Dad told me I needed to find my own space because I’d been using their house for too long, and that’s where FLAG Boxing came in!
I was adamant that I didn’t want to get onto social media, but my sister persuaded me to. When I started out on Instagram, I was recovering from a miscarriage and was in a really bad place. I decided to document my process of getting back into shape, and how I was using sports and training to make myself feel better. It was such a personal journey for me and I didn’t really think about the effect it would have on people.
But it really resonated with people and I started to get a lot of attention, and that’s when I started to realise the impact I could have – especially on Saudi women. I realised that it isn’t normal to see a Saudi woman practicing martial arts, and it’s certainly not normal for her to put it out there in the public domain so people can see. It’s great that my journey has inspired people, although that was never my intention to begin with. My passion for the sport is what fuels me, and I’m so happy to have that.
Things really took off when National Geographic came to interview me for their piece on ‘The Changing Face of Saudi Women’, although I was really naïve and had no idea it was going to be so big!”
Halah has since appeared in major media outlets around the world and, not only has she inspired Saudi women to take care of their bodies, but she has unintentionally become an icon of women’s empowerment in her country and around the world. What she has achieved is especially remarkable given that she lives in a country where the fitness industry is very new.
We asked her what it’s been like leading this new movement, and what opportunities and challenges the rapid growth of the health and fitness industry presents for Saudi women:
“The fitness industry in Saudi has grown ridiculously quickly over the last three years. For the eleven years prior that I was teaching, there was nothing. We weren’t even allowed to open facilities for women, so not much was happening and anything that did take place was in the private sphere. The government has become very supportive of the industry – they’re trying to promote it as much as possible and bring sports events to the country, for example, last year we had the Mohammed Ali Cup, the MMA, football… And women are allowed to participate now, not just men.
Of course, I worry that the momentum might be too much, that it’s all happening too fast and it might meet resistance. It would be very hard for us mentally to go from this position, where there’s so much excitement and optimism, if it suddenly came to a halt – but that’s always a possibility in this country.
There has been some pushback, but not as much as you might imagine. I think the fact that 70% of the population is under the age of 30 works in our favour, because they really want to move forward. So as long as the government continues as it is and the King continues with the changes that he wants to see happening, I think we’re in a good place, inshallah.
One of the challenges is that people live quite a sedentary lifestyle here, and this is becoming worse thanks to social media and the internet. I see this first-hand as an instructor: it’s difficult to teach people who have never worked out in their lives and don’t have that muscle memory. This is particularly the case for Saudi women, as the only women who have ever practiced any kind of sport are those who went to private schools or spent time abroad. This is only a small percentage of the population, and even then, in most cases it hasn’t been sustained. So it’s hard for people, often they don’t move very easily and it takes a long time to train them.
It’s also a cultural thing: because everyone drives here the sedentary lifestyle has become the norm. But even that is starting to change now; people are out walking, here in Jeddah there is a running group, and you have women who are really trying to change those social norms.”
Not coincidentally, the rapid growth of the fitness industry has happened alongside major social changes taking place in Saudi society, as the government seeks to open the country to the outside world and create new opportunities for Saudi citizens – particularly women.
We asked Halah how she feels about the social changes taking place, and how she responds to the stereotypes of Saudi women that often prevail in the Western media.
“There are huge changes happening for women in Saudi at the moment. For example, lifting the driving ban has completely changed my life! It’s not only given us physical freedom but economic freedom as well, as it’s lifted a huge barrier for women to work. I actually still have my driver because I don’t want to fire him, but he doesn’t really do anything now so I joke with him that he should be training in the gym!
I think the biggest challenge facing Saudi women now is realising mentally what they can accomplish and having the confidence to do it. Opportunities are opening up, everything is there and available for women now, but the hardest thing is changing how they think, and getting them to make the move towards doing whatever they want to do.
There are still frustrating stereotypes of Saudi women in the media internationally, although I do understand where this comes from; Very few foreign journalists were allowed into the country before the current King took over, so they had no idea what Saudi women were really like. So I can understand why these stereotypes exist, but it bothers me when journalists come to the country with these stereotypes in mind and don’t actually want to learn the truth about how we really live. We are not oppressed; we may live within our means and within the expectations of our government, but we are still strong and empowered. Often journalists aren’t interested in hearing that because it’s not going to make a good story, so they end up repeating the same stereotypes and reinforcing what people in other countries think they know about us.
Social change takes time, and even the most liberal countries are still moving towards gender equality and fighting those battles. I think the most important thing – and something we don’t see enough of anywhere in the world – is that women continue to support and lift each other up every day. We all have our own struggles, and instead of competing we should support one another.”
Halah’s story of fearless boundary pushing and creating her own success is hugely inspiring for women, not only in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, but around the world. When we asked her about her own role models, her answer was surprising.
“The women I teach in the gym! Especially the ones who work really hard – I’ve done sports all my life so it comes naturally to me. But for these women it doesn’t, they haven’t developed the mentality that goes along with the practice. You have to know how to push yourself, when to push yourself – and it’s not something you develop right away, it happens over many years. And these women are trying to develop that without those years of practice.
When someone puts themselves in a situation where they’re working beyond what they’re comfortable with, that is a true inspiration to me. That’s why I love my job so much, because these women – the ones who really want to try and to work hard – they’re incredible. So I would say they are my number one inspiration, which is great because I get them on a daily basis!”
Having accomplished what many Saudis just a few years ago would have thought impossible, we asked Halah what advice she would give her younger self?
“It gets better. When I was young I had a hard time because I had ADD, so I suffered a lot in school and always thought of myself as a stupid kid because nobody really understood what it was at the time. So they would point at me like, ‘Oh, she’s the naughty kid, she doesn’t study…’ In fact, that’s actually why I gravitated toward sports, because I was able to excel in it. I needed it to feel good about myself because without it I constantly felt like a failure. So I would tell myself, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be okay’. Because so much of the time I thought I wasn’t.”
And what’s next for Halah and FLAG Boxing…?
“One of my goals at the moment is to go to some of the more remote cities in Saudi to give boxing and self-defence classes to women and promote women’s empowerment. That’s one of the many things on my list.
When I started teaching my goal was to spread the sport, to get women active and moving, and that turned into a goal to get girls into competitions. We need to be working with the younger generation to help them build up their skills. It’s a long process and it won’t happen overnight. We can bring in new competitions – and we are – but developing incredible athletes will take years. It’s a generational thing and we have to start with the youngest.
We have just started a programme for kids, but we need more people and more coaches. It’s a challenge; on the one hand, we’re going through a stage as a country where we’re trying to get more Saudis into the workforce, but that can be difficult when you’re recruiting coaches, because you need people who have trained their whole lives, and because it’s such a new thing in our country we just don’t have that. So for now, we need to recruit coaches from abroad.
I’m also working with a friend in Bahrain to put together a self-defence programme for women, which I’m really excited about. For a lot of women in this country, the main reason for their interest in boxing is self-defence, for whatever reason. This is something I’ve wanted to do for fifteen years and I’ve finally found the right person to work with. We’re hoping to launch it within the year, inshallah.
So I’m excited and I’m happy to get up in the morning. I know I have a lot of things I want to accomplish, and that’s my driving force!”
We can’t wait to see what’s next for Halah as she continues to push for women’s empowerment and inspire women worldwide to test their limits and see what they’re capable of. To keep up with her inspiring work, follow @flagboxing on Instagram.
If Halah’s story inspired you, you might also enjoy:
Travel and Tour published on Thursday, February 21, 2019, this article on Saudi Arabia that aims to attract 1.5m tourists by 2020 all according to its Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030. In this prince’s vision, diversification of the economy is emphasised and Tourism as a segment of it, is aimed at increasing the State revenue.
Tourism has turned out to be the
central development theme in Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, and as the Kingdom
gradually opens its doors to tourists from around the world, its own citizens
are also considered as one the fastest growing segment in the global travel
With travel bookings in the Kingdom
considered the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, worth
more than $25 billion each year, the power of the Saudi traveller is strong,
which was reflected in recently concluded Jeddah International Travel and
Tourism Exhibition (JTTX), where thousands of Saudis, including women, attended
The show is touted as the largest
travel trade show in Kingdom, featuring outbound destinations for Saudi
tourists and travel companies showcasing various lucrative options.
The JTTX ninth edition was formally
inaugurated by Prince Saud Bin Abdallah Bin Jalawi, Advisor to Makkah Governor
and also secretary at Jeddah Governorate. The show was held under patronage of
Prince Mishal Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah.
More than 200 exhibitors from 29
countries took part in JTTX which was held at Hilton Hotel. There were stalls
displaying a wide range of tourism facilities such hotels, resorts, airlines,
travel technologies, medical and educational tourism.
A majority of the Kingdom’s tourists
travel to the UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey and the UK
as top holiday destinations.
However, new destinations like Kerala
in India, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Georgia emerge as new destinations for
The show also featured eight new
destinations: Hong Kong, Finland, Spain, Mauritius, Morocco, Kosovo, Vietnam
and New Zealand with Tunisia being the guest of honor of the event.
Saudi Arabia clinched 37 deals worth $53 billion after announcing that
it intends to attract upwards of $426 billion in total over the next decade as
it seeks to advance Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MbS) ambitious Vision
2030 agenda of socio-economic reform. The young leader knows that his
majority-youthful country has no hope for the future if it doesn’t rapidly
transition to a post-oil economy before its world-famous reserves run dry,
which is why he’s doing everything in his power to court infrastructural,
industrial, defense, and technological investments in order to prudently give
his people a chance to survive when that happens.
This will naturally result in
far-reaching lifestyle changes whereby the relatively well-off native
population is compelled to leave their plush government jobs and segue into the
competitive private sector out of economic necessity. Relatedly, the Kingdom is
loosening its previously strict religious edicts that hitherto prohibited
Western-style social freedoms such as playing music in restaurants, going to
the cinema, and allowing women to drive. About the last-mentioned of these
three latest reforms, it’s inevitable that more women will move out of the home
and into the workforce as Vision 2030 progressively develops, though therein
lays the potential for serious social unrest.
The Saudi state is upheld by the dual
pillars of the monarchy and the Wahhabi clerics, the latter of which have been side
lined as a result of Vision 2030 and MbS’ previous crackdown on both radical
Islam and the corrupt elite. For all intents and purposes, the Crown Prince’s
rapid rise to power was a factionalist coup within the monarchy itself but also
a structural one of the monarchy imposing its envisioned will over the Wahhabi
clerics, both in the sense of curtailing any militant activities that some of
them might have been encouraging and/or funding and also when it comes to
counteracting their previously dominant influence over society.
As the country makes progress on
advancing Vision 2030 and its related economic reforms continue catalyzing
social ones as well, it’s very possible that the structural fault lines between
the monarchy & Wahhabis and the younger generation & the older one will
lead to political destabilization if they’re not pre-emptively and properly
dealt with. While it might sound overly dramatic, there’s a lot of objective
truth in the forecast that MbS might either end up as the first King of a New Saudi Arabia or the last Crown Prince of a country that might ultimately cease to exist if these naturally occurring Hybrid War variables
aren’t brought under control.
The International Monetary Fund in its recent report on Saudi Arabia informed that the country whilst reconsidering the speed at which it is taking steps towards austerity, it is nevertheless avoiding slowing down its economy, to notably not increase its unemployment rate. This report holds that although the budget deficit is shrinking, it is doing so at a high cost to the economy. Before adding that : “Riyadh has been cutting spending while raising taxes and fees to curb a huge state budget deficit caused by low oil prices. Last December it published a plan to eliminate the deficit, which was a record $98bn in 2015, by 2020.” Tourism in Saudi Arabia as a palliative equivalent to oil exports related revenues has been reiterated as such for very long but was never taken this seriously.
It is to be noted that with the prospects of oil prices remaining low for the foreseeable future and the global economy possibly opting out of anything to do with fossil fuel type of energy soon, it would be up to the country itself to find other means of replacing those revenues. For that, the country is developing a whole strategy; perhaps one of the rare few that could seriously be envisaged at this stage. Tourism has been plucked out as a good earner and it will not take much in order to expand this sector’s role in the economy.
This of course will be limited in terms of earnings and employment as shown below in the WION graph. And if more earnings and employment were sought, there bound to be difficulties arising from the conservative establishment.
It consists of developing or furthering the already on-going religious tourism. Projects to develop and diversify the Red Sea coast infrastructure and offer it as a world tourism destination have been announced. The following WEF’s article is a good description of this move.
With The Red Sea Islands being developed, Saudi Arabia is hoping to bring more tourism in. Image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem 03 Oct 2017
Saudi Arabia is putting vast sums of money behind its ambitions to nearly quadruple the number of visitors to its holy sites by 2030.
It is spending $26.6 billion to expand the Grand Mosque in Mecca in order to accommodate more pilgrims during the haj week, plus another $3.6 billion on a hotel nearby that with 10,000 rooms would be the world’s largest.
When associated projects such as the Mecca-Medina rail link are included, it is estimated that Saudi Arabia is spending $80 billion on Mecca alone.
The Grand Mosque in Mecca is undergoing a $26.6 billion expansion. Image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Further funds are being spent restoring and improving historical and religious sites across the country, as the government aims to more than double the number of Saudi heritage sites registered with UNESCO by 2030.
Life after oil
The spending on Saudi Arabia’s religious and historical sites is part of a drive by the country’s leaders to wean the country off its dependency on oil.
Saudi Arabia is, with Russia, the world’s joint largest oil and gas producer.
To wean the country off its oil addiction, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year launched a roadmap for diversifying the country’s economy, called Vision 2030.
It includes plans to invest in infrastructure, education and a variety of business sectors outside of oil and gas.
A large portion of the plan will be funded by next year’s sale of less than 5% of state-run oil company Saudi Aramco – widely predicted to be the largest IPO in history, valuing the company at around $2 trillion.
One of the non-oil and gas sectors identified for growth in the Vision 2030 plans is tourism.
A new Saudi Arabia will gradually be emerging as this seems to be the word that is the leitmotiv of the young and fresh at the helm prince MbS (Mohammed bin Salman). This latter’s elevation to heir to the crown at the age of 31 that was already showing in quiet and unheard of boldness is now blatantly in full sight. Would this possibly generalise to a whole generation of leaders in the country’s life and take it towards modernity? Would a radical reform program as embodied in the prince’s “Vision 2030” generate a new self-sufficient country living in good harmony with its neighbours and for this purpose would it need all that accumulated wealth from oil related revenues since its advent in the 30s to be ploughed in to generate conditions that are perhaps propitious to another vision? Or would all this just lead to more clinging to Tradition, survival endurance and frictions of all sorts as restricted OPEC oil output and US shale oil production seem to be the other leitmotiv of the time.
In any case, lots of speculative writings are coming to enlighten us on the situation of the country. Bloomberg’s Donna Abu-Nasr and Zainab Fattah and published on June 23, 2017.
The youngest crown prince in living memory represents a broader youth revolution in Saudi Arabia.
While the elevation of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, as heir to the throne this week caught the attention, some of his cousins and relatives whose fathers held key posts in past decades have been installed in the royal court as advisers, sent to the U.S. and Europe as ambassadors and appointed to government institutions in Riyadh.
Together, they are some of the world’s most powerful millennials, increasingly in control of a Gulf kingdom where two-thirds of the population is under 35. The challenge will be to sell Prince Mohammed’s “Vision 2030,” his road map to a post-oil economy that will require social upheaval and financial sacrifices never experienced by this generation.
“Having young princes at the helm, who understand young people’s needs, is the message being sent,” said Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program. “Perhaps the princes can talk in the same language as the youth and listen to their concerns so they would be able to address them in more effective ways.”
Prince Mohammed is likely to be among his country’s youngest kings with a potential for his rule to last half a century. He joins a roster of youth wielding more power elsewhere. French President Emmanuel Macron is 39, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the U.S. are 36 and 35 and Ireland’s new prime minister is 38. Then there’s North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He’s thought to be around 33.
The decision by the prince’s father, King Salman, to pick some of his younger children as well as grandsons and great-grandsons of the kingdom’s founder is meant to ensure a smooth transition in the royal household. It also comes under the watchful eye of the older traditionalists.
Saudi Arabia is going through arguably the biggest changes since the kingdom’s founding in 1932. The new crown prince is aiming to effectively tear up a lot of the social contract that’s kept the royal family in power to create jobs and modernize the economy. It was one of state handouts in return for adherence to an autocracy underpinned by an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
The appointments are a way to protect Prince Mohammed when he becomes monarch, said Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. State Department official who is now non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, an American organization focusing on foreign affairs.
It avoids the dangers of the old guard “using their old contacts against the new king,” he said. “The transition to youth is a good story,” but the way it was done “does not necessarily imply good things for the future of the country,” he said.
The new appointees include Prince Khalid bin Bandar, who is being sent to Germany as ambassador. His father, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was one of the most powerful Saudi envoys to Washington and later was in charge of intelligence. Another is Prince Abdullah, now an advisor to the royal court and son of Prince Khalid, who served as deputy defense minister.
Along with Prince Mohammed, the king has appointed another young son — he is under 30 — as ambassador to the U.S. and another one as minister of state for energy. While other kings have sought to help and encourage their children, “this was the most blatant act of nepotism ever in Saudi Arabia,” said Khoury.
There’s also the new interior minister. Born in 1983, Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef will succeed his uncle, the ousted crown prince who successfully managed to halt al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia when he headed the ministry.
With so many young faces in charge, change may come faster to Saudi Arabia, but also potentially without the careful deliberation about the effects on society, said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
“King Salman has been, for decades, the family ‘enforcer’ of discipline and the keeper of the family secrets,” said Ulrichsen. “If the family files are not picked up by someone of similar stature to Salman, there is a risk that discipline within the Al Saud may begin to fragment if the unifying glue becomes loosened.”
Limited Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia is a fact that is acknowledged throughout the world, but it is also well known that the situation of women in their everyday life generally as well as in their representation in all socio-political and economic institutions in that country would perhaps be understood relatively differently. For that, we published on March 19, 2016 an article ironically titled Women Pilots Driving Saudi Men Crazy and written by our own Lee Light.
It remains that women in business or in any other professional commitments whether in education, healthcare, sports if compared to many of the country’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia does not seem to be too much left behind; we would recommend reading this article of National Geographic The Changing Face of Saudi Women published in February 2016 on the subject that is quite of an eye opener in this respect.
Per local media reports, the Saudi King issued recently an order that allows women to benefit from certain government services without the consent of a male guardian. This looks to many observers like a move by Saudi Arabia to give women more control over their life choices by relaxing the prevailing system of male domination that could hopefully to a little more gender equality.
Meanwhile another but recent article of Al Bab written by Brian Whitaker on May 2, 2017 is republished here as another way of looking at the same topic of women’s status in Saudi Arabia. Apart from the first thing that comes to mind which is who to believe, the issue here seem to be far more concerned about how a country could vote for therefore endorse a country usually depicted as to put it mildly overbearing towards women. Or is it a matter of how to vote in a country into this or that international institution on the basis of its performance on this or that domain?
The Belgian government has admitted supporting Saudi Arabia’s election to a UN body which champions women’s rights – and now says it regrets doing so. Meanwhile, numerous other countries supposedly committed to gender equality are refusing to say how they voted.
Saudi Arabia has a long history of institutionalised discrimination against women and is one of the world’s worst offenders in that respect, but last month it was elected to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. The commission is described on its website as “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.
Commission members are chosen by ECOSOC, the UN’s Economic and Social Council. In a secret ballot, Saudi Arabia won a place on the commission with 47 out of 54 countries voting in its favour and only seven against. The electoral arithmetic means that at least three EU countries (and possibly more) voted in favour.
In the Belgian parliament on Saturday, prime minister Charles Michel said his government had been informed of the ballot “only a few hours” before it took place. He continued:
“Thus, a vote was expressed by our diplomats on behalf of Belgium. I regret this vote. [Applause]. If it could be done again and if it was possible to proceed with a political assessment at the government level, I of course would have pleaded against a favourable vote. There is no ambiguity in this matter …
“I regret this vote. We will draw the consequences of this in the future and I have given instructions for a political assessment to be made at the highest level in order for this not to occur again. In short, we are fully determined to promoting the universal values of human rights.”
The other EU countries casting votes in the election were Britain, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. It is still unclear how any of them voted.
In a comment posted on Facebook (translated by UN Watch), Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström wrote said: “The decision on how Sweden would act in the vote for the Women’s Commission … was not something that was decided at the political level.” She added that the government would reveal how it voted to parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee – but the committee’s meetings are confidential.
A spokesman for Ireland’s mission at the UN mission said “it is not our usual practice to disclose publicly how we vote in such ballots”, claiming that ballot secrecy “facilitates the conduct and management of sensitive international relationships”.
Norway, a non-EU member which boasts of being “one of the foremost advocates for women’s rights in the UN and in the Commission on the Status of Women” is refusing to disclose how it voted – again citing ballot secrecy.
“Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, I would like to ask for access to the decision on the vote cast by the United Kingdom in ECOSOC regarding the candidature of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to CSW.
“Given the salience of the candidature, I assume a decision was taken either at ministerial or at senior official level and instructions were then communicated to the UK Mission in New York. If the decision itself is not recorded in written form (e.g. by endorsement of a submission), I would instead ask for a copy of the instructions sent to the UK Mission.”
This brought a Kafkaesque brush-off from the Foreign Office. It said the request should be redirected to the Government Equalities Office in Manchester – a body which appears to have nothing to do with foreign policy.
Although the UN ballot was secret, there appears to be no rule preventing any country from disclosing how it voted. Vote-trading between countries is a common practice at the UN and would probably embarrass a lot of governments if details became public – hence the desire for secrecy. Britain has previously been suspected of trading votes with Saudi Arabia in connection with membership of the UN Human Rights Council.