Will Saudi Reforms be enough to Forestall big Trouble ahead?

By Bernard Haykel | (Project Syndicate) | – –

In 2017, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue two key goals: to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil revenues and government spending; and to position the Kingdom as a regional hegemon that can meet any threat. The country’s transformation will be difficult, but it is necessary, not least for regional stability.

PRINCETON – In 2017, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue the two key goals that King Salman set when he acceded to the throne in January 2015: to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil revenues and government spending; and to position the Kingdom as a regional hegemon that can meet any threat, especially from Iran.

Salman’s 31-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is also the defense minister and chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs – is overseeing the country’s reforms. The prince is a charismatic and energetic figure, whose apparent commitment to meaningful reform has impressed the country’s youthful population (70% of Saudis are under 30), as well as many foreign observers. He has promised to make the government more accountable and transparent, and to deliver more economic opportunities for the Kingdom’s citizens.

But reform will be a Sisyphean struggle, because the state employs two-thirds of the population, and its decades-old entitlements system has created a culture of dependence. It will be exceedingly difficult to wean Saudis off of government handouts and benefits, and acclimate them to an economy in which the state is not the dominant player.

To achieve its objectives, the government will have to cut spending on health care, education, and energy and utilities subsidies; institute new forms of taxation, such as value-added, “sin,” and land taxes; and create a competitive environment for private-sector firms to create most future jobs. Thus, the ruling Al Saud family will have to re-invent the social contract with its subjects. And, judging by social media – the principal space where Saudis express themselves openly – the Kingdom’s people will be demanding more of a formal say in governance.

Bernard Haykel is a professor in the Near Eastern Studies Department, Princeton University.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

World Economic Forum: “Davos 2017 – Saudi Arabia’s Path to 2030”

Posted in Saudi Arabia | 4 Responses | Print |

4 Responses

  1. It is curious how one can speak of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammed ibn Salman’s role as a reformer and not mention the disastrous war in Yemen he has pursued. Even overlooking the wretched fact that this war of choice has killed tens of thousands, has destroyed vital infrastructure in Yemen and has impoverished a nation, Saudi Arabia is spending a fortune that could be otherwise used for projects that would benefit its own citizens and residents. The Sisyphean struggle for reform in Saudia Arabia is not only merely caused by the dependence of its citizens for government largesse. but crucially, too, by the cruel hubris of a militaristic prince who trying to punching far above his weight.

  2. This article assumes that the “citizens” of the KSA will keep “reelecting” the House of Saud to power. Out to at least 2030.
    .
    not a safe bet.

  3. Juan, Do you expect to see Saudi Arabia address the following issue? “The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. ‘If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,’ the official, Farah Pandith, wrote [in 2015], ‘there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.’” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  4. Many people who are concerned about global warming and therefore follow what’s happening to oil around the world are watching Saudi Arabia closely. The current government seems to be taking global warming seriously and adjusting accordingly. But there are questions about how many prominent Saudis are on board:

    link to cleantechnica.com

    Then again, given the election of Trump, the Saudis may be positioning themselves for whatever comes.

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