Saudi Crown Prince, in His Own Words: Women Are ‘Absolutely’ Equal

Time: March 18, 2018
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” he said, “I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” adding, “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”CreditDan Kitwood/Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The powerful crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, 32, arrives in the United States on Monday for an extended visit during which he is scheduled to meet President Trump and tour a number of American cities.

Among his trip’s goals: selling Americans on his sweeping plans to reform the economic and social life of the kingdom — and to get American investors to put money into them.

On Sunday, “60 Minutes,” the CBS News program, aired an episode about the prince and where he hopes to take Saudi Arabia. The quotations below were taken from a transcript provided to The New York Times.

On Islam

Prince Mohammed acknowledged that Saudi Arabia has been dominated by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that was wary of non-Muslims, deprived women of basic rights and constricted social life by banning movie theaters and music.

“We were victims, especially my generation that suffered from this a great deal,” he said of the wave of conservatism that spread through the kingdom after 1979.

He has pushed to expand entertainment options and promised to let women drive in June.

On Women’s Rights

When asked if women were equal to men, Prince Mohammed said: “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.”

His rise to power has been accompanied by a loosening of restrictions on women’s dress and an expansion of their role in the work force. He said the government was working on regulations to ensure equal pay.

But women in Saudi Arabia are still bound by so-called guardianship laws that give male relatives control over aspects of their lives, like their ability to travel abroad and undergo certain medical procedures.

On Purge of Princes

Prince Mohammed defended the recent jailing of more than 380 princes, businessmen and former government ministers in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh as part of a campaign to stamp out corruption.

“What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary,” Prince Mohammed said of the arrests. “All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.”

Relatives and associates of the detained said that many were subjected to coercive tactics and physical abuse to get them to sign assets over to the state. One detainee died, his body showing signs of mistreatment.

The Saudi government denies that any abuse took place.

On His Wealth

Prince Mohammed has been criticized for lavish personal spending at a time when he is imposing new taxes on Saudi citizens and preaching fiscal responsibility. In recent years, he bought a yacht for a half-billion dollars, a French chateau for more than $300 million and a painting for $450 million.

In the interview, Prince Mohammed said his private spending was his business.

“As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person,” he said. “I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.”

On Becoming King

Prince Mohammed is expected to ascend to the throne after his father, King Salman, dies. If that happens, given his young age, he could rule Saudi Arabia for 50 years.

This article was first published The New York Times

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Saudi Arabia’s Google talks prove Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is the most powerful leader in the Middle East

SOURCE: CNBC

Time: 01 February, 2018

 

  • Google and Amazon are reportedly in advanced talks with Saudi Arabia to build a tech hub in that country.
  • This is the result of seven months of swift reforms in Saudi Arabia that began under Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
  • It’s not only proof that bin Salman’s reforms have worked, but also that he is now the most powerful man in the entire Middle East.

Reports surfaced Thursday that Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company, and Google parent Alphabet have reportedly entered discussions to create a technology hub in Saudi Arabia.

This news is the latest and perhaps the most solid evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is not only the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia, and not only the most powerful leader in Sunni Islam, he is now clearly the most powerful man in the entire Middle East.

That’s because he’s not only gained more control over his own country but doing so has made Saudi Arabia more powerful both politically and financially.

It’s been just seven months since his reportedly ailing father King Salman effectively handed control of the country to him by naming him crown prince. Since then, the 32-year-old bin Salman has run full speed with his three-part plan to strengthen the country. Part one was shoring up Saudi defenses against Iran, which he accomplished in many ways but most notably by entering into a more solid partnership with Israel.

Step two was a major series of cultural reforms that included purging anti-American and anti-Jewish clerics and granting more rights for women.

“Crown Prince bin Salman is being rewarded for his actions. The U.S. is rewarding him. Israel is rewarding him. Now, two of the richest corporations in the world are poised to do the same.”

Step three was more controversial. That was the crown prince’s plan to improve the nation’s finances and send an anti-corruption message by detaining without trial about 200 of his fellow princes and government officials at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.

That group included the richest man in the Middle East, his cousin and fellow prince, Alwaleed bin Talal. But the operation has come to an apparently peaceful and lucrative end with many billions of dollars turned over to the government by the detainees in return for their release.

All of this has happened with no apparent protest and no reported violent outbursts. Compare that with the massive protests that engulfed Iran just a few weeks ago.

Now, the Alphabet/Google talks with the Saudis, as well as a separate deal for three data centers with Amazon, are taking the crown prince’s successes to a new level. It’s the first proof that his efforts to diversify his nation’s economy from being solely dependent on oil aren’t such a long shot after all.

Of course, these talks with America’s tech titans would not have been possible without all the major moves bin Salman made first. Improving the nation’s security, finances, rights for women, and toning down its worst Islamist rhetoric go a long way to making the kingdom a more attractive place to invest.

But look at the bigger picture. Sure, Saudi Arabia still doesn’t have the strongest military, and it still doesn’t have a very large population. It’s also still backing the government in Yemen against an Iranian-sponsored revolt. None of that has stopped Saudi Arabia from continuing to have the biggest GDP in the Middle East, the most allies in the region and the power of rising oil prices to boot.

So, finally, we understand the purpose of all the crown prince’s sweeping moves since June. They’re not just about stepping up militarily to deter Iran’s ambitions in the region. Now we know it’s about finding a way to make an impressive form of foreign investment in Saudi Arabia more possible.

There are other Middle Eastern leaders with autocratic power who would like to do the same thing. But they don’t have the money, the powerful friends, or true support from their own populations that bin Salman clearly has.

Imagine if the mullahs in Iran used their power to achieve these kinds of goals instead of being the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, launching proxy wars all over the region, and granting fewer rights to their own people. Imagine if the leaders of Syria and Egypt did something like this 40 or 50 years ago instead of obsessing and warring with Israel.

Saudi Arabia was just about as guilty as its peers of being similarly misdirected in favor of Wahhabist Islamism and other counterproductive nonsense for decades. But now it has a leader who has a better and clearer focus.

Yes, that detention of his peers at the Riyadh Ritz was disturbing in many ways. But it’s hard to make a lack of due process a deal breaker in the neighborhood where we see Iran’s brutal domestic repression or aSyrian civil war that’s claimed almost half a million lives.

Crown Prince bin Salman is being rewarded for his actions. The U.S. is rewarding him. Israel is rewarding him. Now, two of the richest corporations in the world are poised to do the same.

And all that will do is make him even more powerful. Hopefully, this kind of positive reinforcement will encourage other leaders in the Middle East to follow his lead.

This article was first published in CNBC

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Saudi crown prince says anti-corruption drive is essential for the Kingdom’s reputation

Time: January 21, 2018

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has dismissed claims that the anti-corruption drive in the Kingdom, which led to the arrest of several prominent royals, was a power grab, saying such comments were “ludicrous.”
He added that the public prosecutor believed the amount of funds that could eventually be recovered could amount to $100 billion.
The crown prince told the New York Times that many of those being held in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton had pledged allegiance to him and the proposed reforms.
Adding that he also had the support of most key royals, he said: “Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”
He said when his father King Salman, who was clear of any corruption charges, came to power, they decided it was time to put an end to the problems tarnishing the country’s reputation.
“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top,” the crown prince said.
He added that the team took two years to piece together the “most accurate information,” which finally led to the production of a list of 200 names.
Each of the billionaires and princes accused of corruption was arrested, presented with the evidence and given the choice to come clean, the crown prince said.
He added that about 95 percent agreed to settle, signing over cash or shares in their businesses to the Saudi State Treasury.
The crown prince said a further 1 percent were able to prove their innocence, while the remaining 4 percent insisted they were not corrupt and wanted to go to court with their lawyers.
He said it was not possible to get rid of all corruption, but the current drive would send a signal that there is no escape.
Asked about his recent comments about moving Saudi Arabia to a more moderate and tolerant form of Islam, he said: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and (daily life in) Saudi Arabia before 1979.”
During this time, he explained, the Kingdom had musical theaters, men and women mixing, and respect for Christians and Jews. He added that the first commercial judge in Madinah was a woman.
The crown prince praised US President Donald Trump, describing him as “the right person at the right time.”
He said Saudi Arabia is slowly building a coalition with its allies to “stand up to Iran.”
The crown prince said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the “new Hitler of the Middle East,” adding: “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
Asked why he was implementing reforms at such a determined pace, he replied: “I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind.”
He said life is too short, but he is determined to make change happen in his lifetime.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi crown prince pledges return to moderate Islam, in powerful rebuke to strict clerics

SOURCE: South China Morning Post

‘We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness’

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pledged to make his country “moderate, open”, breaking with ultra-conservative clerics in favour of an image catering to foreign investors and Saudi youth.

The Saudi strongman, 32, did not mince words on Tuesday in declaring a new reality for the kingdom, hours after announcing the launch of an independent $500 billion megacity – with “separate regulation” – along the Red Sea coastline.

“We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness,” he told international investors gathered at an economic forum in Riyadh.

“Seventy per cent of the Saudi population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today and at once,” the crown prince said.

It’s the latest surprise move by Saudi Arabia, a country that for decades was characterised by slow, cautious reforms, bureaucratic red tape and promises that fell short of target. The kingdom was forced to spring into action nearly three years ago after global energy prices fell by more than half, threatening to deplete Saudi foreign reserves and spending power by 2020.

Now, the kingdom is on a mission to build the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund to invest in projects like the new megacity, dubbed Neom.

The city will run entirely on alternative energy and will serve as an innovation hub.

The aim is diversify revenue away from oil exports and create more jobs under a plan spearheaded by the crown prince known as Vision 2030.

We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam
SAUDI CROWN PRINCE MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN

No reform, however, was more disruptive to the old order than last month’s decision to lift the ban on women driving next summer. Saudi Arabia is also expected to bring back cinemas soon as it opens the ultraconservative country to more entertainment.

Prince Mohammed defended these reforms at the conference on Tuesday, saying “we were not like this in the past.”

The heir to the throne said the kingdom will work to defeat extremist ideas and ensure that young Saudis live in harmony with the rest of the world.

One of the Saudi millennials in attendance was Abdul Aziz, a 27-year-old policy consultant.

He lauded the young prince for “pushing the boundaries of what’s possible” in the rigid kingdom and for using the televised speech to highlight what he sees as an abandoned legacy of moderation.

“It showed the political and social change in Saudi Arabia is not a transformation. Saudi Arabia is going back to its original roots of a moderate Islam, a tolerant society,” Abdul Aziz said.

Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, said he would see to it his country moved past 1979, a reference to the rise of political Islam in the years following the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.

The early 1970s had ushered major change into the oil-rich kingdom, including the introduction of television and schools for girls.

But that came to a halt as the Al-Sheikh family, which controls religious and social regulation in the kingdom, and the ruling Al-Saud family slowly reinforced the conservative policies Riyadh is known for.

Prince Mohammed’s statement Tuesday is the most direct attack by a Saudi official on the Gulf country’s influential conservative religious circles, whose stranglehold on Saudi society now appears to face serious challenges.

“We are returning to what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions, traditions and people around the globe,” he said.

While the Saudi government continues to draw criticism from international rights groups, the crown prince has pushed ahead with reforms since his sudden appointment on June 21.

Monitors, including Amnesty International, say Saudi Arabia has in parallel stepped up its repression of peaceful rights activists.

Saudi authorities last month arrested more than 20 activists, including two popular Muslim preachers, without disclosing any charges against them.

But the young prince is widely regarded as being the force behind King Salman’s decision last month to lift a decades-long ban prohibiting women from driving.

Prince Mohammed’s comments came hours after the opening of the Future Investment Initiative, a three-day economic conference that drew some 2,500 dignitaries, including 2,000 foreign investors, to Riyadh.

The Neom project will operate under regulations separate from those that govern the rest of Saudi Arabia.

“This place is not for conventional people or conventional companies,” Prince Mohammed said. “This will be a place for the dreamers of the world.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel

Time: November 5, 2017

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — For decades, Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment wielded tremendous power, with bearded enforcers policing public behavior, prominent sheikhs defining right and wrong, and religious associations using the kingdom’s oil wealth to promote their intolerant interpretation of Islam around the world.

Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.

Before the arrests on Saturday of his fellow royals and former ministers on corruption allegations, Prince Mohammed had stripped the religious police of their arrest powers and expanded the space for women in public life, including promising them the right to drive.

Dozens of hard-line clerics have been detained, while others were designated to speak publicly about respect for other religions, a topic once anathema to the kingdom’s religious apparatus.

If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy. That shift could reverberate abroad by moderating the exportation of the kingdom’s uncompromising version of Islam, Wahhabism, which has been accused of fueling intolerance and terrorism.

Bringing the religious establishment to heel is also a crucial part of the prince’s efforts to take the traditional levers of Saudi power under his control. The arrests on Saturday appeared to cripple potential rivals within the royal family and send a warning to the business community to toe the line.

Prince Mohammed has taken control of the country’s three main security forces, and now is corralling the powerful religious establishment.

As evidence of that, the kingdom’s chief religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, endorsed the arrests over the weekend, saying that Islamic law “instructs us to fight corruption and our national interest requires it.”

The 32-year-old crown prince outlined his religious goals at a recent investment conference in Riyadh, saying the kingdom needed a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.”

But such top-down changes will face huge challenges in a deeply conservative society steeped in the idea that Saudi Arabia’s religious strictures set it apart from the rest of the world as a land of unadulterated Islam. Enforcing those changes will also require overhauling the state’s sprawling religious bureaucracy, many of whose employees fear that the kingdom is forsaking its principles.

“For sure, it does not make me comfortable,” a government cleric in Buraida, a conservative city north of Riyadh, said of the new acceptance of gender mixing and music at public events. “Anything that has sin in it, anything that angers the Almighty — it’s a problem.”

The government has tried to silence such sentiments by arresting clerics and warning members of the religious police not to speak publicly about the loss of their powers, according to their relatives.

All clerics interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that they, too, would be arrested for breaking with the government line.

“They did a pre-emptive strike,” one cleric said of the arrests. “All those who thought about saying no to the government got arrested.”

He acknowledged that many conservatives have reservations about the new direction but would go along, in part because Saudi Islam emphasizes obedience to the ruler.

“It’s not like they held a referendum and said, ‘Do you want to go this way or that way?’” he said. “But in the end, people go through the door that you open for them.”

The clerics have long been subservient to the royal family, but their independence has eroded as they became government functionaries and have been forced to accept — and at times sanction — policies they disliked, like the arrival of American troops, whom they considered infidels, during the Gulf War in 1990.

“In a sense, Mohammed bin Salman is trying to fight with a religious establishment that is already weakened,” said Stéphane Lacroix, a scholar of political Islam at Sciences Po, the Paris Institute of Political Studies. “Most of the Wahhabi clerics are not happy with what is happening, but preserving the alliance with the monarchy is what matters most. They have much more to lose by protesting.”

The alliance of the clerics and the royal family dates to the founding of the Saudi dynasty in the 1700s. Since then, the royal family governed with guidance from the clerics, who legitimized their rule.

The alliance persisted through the foundation of the modern Saudi state by the crown prince’s grandfather in 1932, giving the kingdom its strict Islamic character. Women shroud their bodies in black gowns, shops close periodically throughout the day for prayer, alcohol is forbidden and grave crimes are punished by beheading.

Public observance of any religion other than Islam is banned, and clerics run the justice system, which hands down harsh punishments like floggingsand prison for crimes like disobeying one’s father and apostasy.

Human rights groups say the kingdom’s textbooks still promote intolerance, and conservatives in the education ministry pass their views along to students.

While the prohibition on the mixing of unrelated men and women is starting to change, gender segregation remains the norm.

Crown Prince Mohammed, who rose to prominence after his father became king in 2015, has shown little deference to the traditional religious establishment while spearheading an unprecedented social opening.

When the government took arrest powers away from the religious police last year, many Saudis were so shocked that they suspected it was not real. That change paved the way for new entertainment options, including concerts and dance performances.

In addition to promising women the right to drive next June, the government has named women to high-profile jobs and announced that it would allow them to enter soccer stadiums, another blow to the ban on mixing of the sexes.

In pushing such reforms, Crown Prince Mohammed is betting the kingdom’s large youth population cares more about entertainment and economic opportunities than religious dogma.

Many young Saudis have cheered the new direction, and would love to see the clerics banished from public life. But the changes have shocked conservatives.

“Society in general at this time is very scared,” said another cleric in Buraida. “They feel that the issue is negative. It will push women into society. That is what is in their minds, that it is not right and that it will bring more corruption than benefits.”

Photo

Men gather to pray just after sunset, at Al Bujairi square. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Like other clerics, he saw no religious reason to bar women from driving but said he was against changing the status of women in ways that he said violated Islamic law.

“They want her to dance. They want her to go to the cinema. They want her to uncover her face. They want her to show her legs and thighs. That is liberal thought,” he said. “It is a corrupting ideology.”

Still, some find the recent moves encouraging.

“If they have to take serious measures to stamp out the uglier parts of Salafism that permeate Islam around the world, it could be on the whole quite a good thing,” said Cole Bunzel, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But a cleric who works in education in Riyadh said he worried that pushing the conservatives too far could drive the most extreme ones underground, where they could be drawn to violence.

Precedents for such blowback dot Saudi history.

In 1979, extremists who accused the royal family of being insufficiently Islamic seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, shocking the Muslim world. Later, Osama bin Laden founded Al Qaeda after breaking with Saudi Arabia over its reliance on Western troops for protection. More recently, thousands of Saudis have joined the Islamic State for similar reasons.

But precedents also exist of clerics adopting changes they initially condemned.

Many fought the introduction of television; now, they have their own satellite channels. Others resisted education for girls; they now send their daughters to school.

One cleric said he had not wanted his wife and daughters to have cellphones at first either, but later changed his mind. The same could happen with driving.

“With time, if society sees that the decision is positive and safe, they will accept it,” he said.

This article was first published in The New York Times

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I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince

Time: 24 Oct 2017

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return the country to “moderate Islam” and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.

In an interview with the Guardian, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne said the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.

Expanding on comments he made at an investment conference at which he announced the launch of an ambitious $500bn (£381bn) independent economic zone straddling Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, Prince Mohammed said: “We are a G20 country. One of the biggest world economies. We’re in the middle of three continents. Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world. So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”

Earlier Prince Mohammed had said: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”

The crown prince’s comments are the most emphatic he has made during a six-month reform programme that has tabled cultural reforms and economic incentives unimaginable during recent decades, during which the kingdom has been accused of promoting a brand of Islam that underwrote extremism.

The comments were made as the heir of the incumbent monarch moves to consolidate his authority, sidelining clerics whom he believes have failed to support him and demanding unquestioning loyalty from senior officials whom he has entrusted to drive a 15-year reform programme that aims to overhaul most aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Central to the reforms has been the breaking of an alliance between hardline clerics who have long defined the national character and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of state. The changes have tackled head-on societal taboos such as the recently rescinded ban on women driving, as well as scaling back guardianship laws that restrict women’s roles and establishing an Islamic centre tasked with certifying the sayings of the prophet Muhammed.

The scale and scope of the reforms has been unprecedented in the country’s modern history and concerns remain that a deeply conservative base will oppose what is effectively a cultural revolution – and that the kingdom lacks the capacity to follow through on its economic ambitions.

The new economic zone is to be established on 470km of the Red Sea coast, in a tourist area that has already been earmarked as a liberal hub akin to Dubai, where male and female bathers are free to mingle.

It has been unveiled as the centrepiece of efforts to turn the kingdom away from a near total dependence on oil and into a diverse open economy. Obstacles remain: an entrenched poor work ethic, a crippling regulatory environment and a general reluctance to change.

“Economic transformation is important but equally essential is social transformation,” said one of the country’s leading businessmen. “You cannot achieve one without the other. The speed of social transformation is key. It has to be manageable.”

Alcohol, cinemas and theatres are still banned in the kingdom and mingling between unrelated men and women remains frowned upon. However Saudi Arabia – an absolute monarchy – has clipped the wings of the once-feared religious police, who no longer have powers to arrest and are seen to be falling in line with the new regime.

Economically Saudi Arabia will need huge resources if it is to succeed in putting its economy on a new footing and its leadership believes it will fail to generate strategic investments if it does not also table broad social reforms.

Prince Mohammed had repeatedly insisted that without establishing a new social contract between citizen and state, economic rehabilitation would fail. “This is about giving kids a social life,” said a senior Saudi royal figure. “Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that – except the people in small towns. But they will learn.”

In the next 10 years, at least five million Saudis are likely to enter the country’s workforce, posing a huge problem for officials who currently do not have jobs to offer them or tangible plans to generate employment.

The economic zone is due to be completed by 2025 – five years before the current cap on the reform programme – and is to be powered by wind and solar energy, according to its founders.

The country’s enormous sovereign wealth fund is intended to be a key backer of the independent zone. It currently has $230bn under management. The sale of 5% of the world’s largest company, Aramco, is expected to raise several hundred billion dollars more.

This article was first published in The Guardian

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Saudi Crown Prince announces launch of global tourism ‘Red Sea Project’

Time: August 1, 2017

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, said the Red Sea Project will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural spots. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced the launch of an international tourism venture in Saudi Arabia under the working title of the “Red Sea Project”.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), said the Red Sea Project will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural spots, in cooperation with the world’s largest hotel companies to develop exceptional resorts on more than 50 natural islands between the cities of Amlaj and Al-Jawh, just a few kilometers from one of the Kingdom’s protected reserves and inactive volcanoes in Harat Alrahat area.

The project is set to turn the areas into a leading coastal destination, located on a number of pristine islands near the Red Sea. The project will be located close to the Mada’in Saleh, an archaeological site characterized by its urban beauty and great historical significance.

مشروع البحر الأحمر

@TheRedSeaSA

50 جزيرة في تجعل السعودية وجهة سياحية عالمية.

A few minutes from the main beach, visitors will be able to discover hidden treasures in the Red Sea area, including a nature reserve to explore the diversity of flora and fauna in the area. Adventure enthusiasts will be able to navigate between the inactive volcanoes located next to the project area, and dive enthusiasts explore the abundant coral reefs in the surrounding waters.

As tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the Red Sea project will contribute to a qualitative shift in the concept of tourism and hospitality.

Cultivating heritage sites

Under the project, heritage sites will also be restored on a scientific basis to be ready for visitors. For example, a higher ceiling will be set for visitors to the region, in line with global best practices in tourism and archeology.

“The new project aims to promote international tourism by opening the Red Sea gate to the world in order to identify its treasures and embark on new adventures that will attract tourists locally, regionally and internationally. The project will be a center for everything related to recreation, health and relaxation and an integrated model for healthy and vital society,” a statement on Saudi Press Agency read.

“In order to preserve the unique environmental character of the region, environmental sustainability laws and mechanisms will be developed. Natural resources will be conserved in accordance with the best practices and standards in place globally,” the statement added.

he Red Sea project will be developed as a private area where systems will be applied in accordance with international best practices and expertise to enable the achievement of the project objectives. The foundation will be laid in the third quarter of 2019 and the first phase will be completed in the last quarter of 2022, a time which will see the development of the airport, the port, the development of hotels and luxury residences, the completion of facilities and infrastructure, and transport services (boats, water jets, etc.).

The PIF will inject initial investments into this project and open partnerships with leading international companies, which will bring new and direct investments to the Kingdom while seeking to attract and redirect Saudi tourism expenses into the kingdom.

The project will attract the world’s leading names in the tourism and hospitality sectors to harness its expertise, competencies and financial investments to enrich the experiences of this destination, provide more value to its visitors and maximize the economic gains of the Kingdom.

This article was first published in Al Arabiya English  

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Saudi crown prince launches mega Red Sea tourism project

Time: August 01, 2017

 

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), on Tuesday announced the launch of an international tourism project in the Kingdom called The Red Sea.
Envisioned as a resort built across a lagoon of 50 untouched islands, The Red Sea will be situated in one of the world’s last natural hidden treasures, between the cities of Umlaj and Al-Wajh. It will be developed in partnership with the world’s leading hospitality firms.
Situated just a few kilometers from one of the most diverse Saudi nature reserves and captivating dormant volcanoes in Harrat Al-Rahat, the resort promises to be a blissful coastal island retreat set against a backdrop of the ancient ruins at Mada’in Saleh, renowned for its beauty and historical significance.
Visitors will be able to explore hidden treasures, including a nature reserve that boasts a stunning diversity of flora and fauna at the foothills of the dormant volcano nearby.
An array of marine-oriented resort developments will allow for unparalleled scuba diving among stunning coral reefs. The project will form an archipelago that is home to environmentally protected coral reefs, mangroves and several endangered marine species, including the hawksbill sea turtle.
It will also boast dormant volcanoes, the most recently active of which has a recorded history of activity dating back to the 17th century AD.
The project’s nature reserve is inhabited by rare wildlife including leopards, wolves, wildcats and falcons. Also on offer will be parachuting, trekking and rock climbing.
With tourism representing the second most important sector in the Kingdom, The Red Sea will spearhead the diversification of the Saudi leisure industry.

In line with Vision 2030, it will diversify Saudi tourism offerings to create a year-round hospitality sector while promoting cultural conservation and economic stimulation.
The Red Sea will serve as a wellness center while setting new standards for sustainable development and environmental protection, which will be central to the project’s development.
To ensure the highest standard of environmental conservation, the number of visitors annually will be capped and heritage sites will be restored.
Laws on par with international standards will govern the newly mapped semi-autonomous area, with initial groundbreaking expected in the third quarter of 2019.
Completion of the project’s first phase is anticipated by the last quarter of 2022, which will include development of hotels, luxury residential units and all logistical infrastructure such as air, land and sea transport hubs.
The project will be developed with seed capital from the PIF, while partnerships with top-tier international companies will be formed.
This will attract the world’s leading names in hotel and tourism operations while contributing to Saudi economic growth. The project aims to generate SR15 billion ($4 billion) annually to the Saudi economy and create 35,000 jobs.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi prince warns against reform backlash from clerics

 Time: January 8, 2017

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has warned he will consider punitive measures against any religious clerics who incite violence over his plans to reform Saudi Arabia’s economy and society.

Mohammad bin Salman told visiting researchers that he has persuaded more than half of the kingdom’s religious clerics to back his vision for reform, but that there remained a small faction that were too dogmatic to reason with.

The 31-year-old prince said he has laid out a three-part strategy to prevent backlash from conservative religious leaders opposed to his plans for economic reform.

Mohammad bin Salman, son of the current King Salman and defence minister – but currently second-in-line to the Saudi throne – has personally spearheaded a much-publicised drive for reform in Saudi Arabia’s state and society.

While the “Vision 2030” reforms proposed focus mostly on the Saudi economy – seeking particularly to wean it off oil dependence – they are set to inevitably affect the social systems of the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Bin Salman’s plans include increasing entertainment and cultural activities in Saudi Arabia, where music concerts and cinemas are currently prohibited.

The “Vision 2030” reforms also seek to increase tourism to the kingdom, where gender segregation is mandatory in public, women are not allowed to drive, and must adhere to a rigid definition of the Islamic dress code.

Despite the increasing power of the “heir to the heir apparent”, bin Salman’s reforms could face resistance from Saudi Arabia’s highly powerful religious classes.

Clerics in Saudi Arabia wield significant influence with the official Council of Senior Scholars – the country’s highest religious body – meeting regularly with the kingdom’s ruling monarch.

Since the kingdom’s founding in 1932, a division of power between the Saudi royals and the clerical establishment afforded prerogatives over mosques, culture and education to the clerical classes.

The “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”, known commonly as the hayaaoperates as a quasi-police force with patrols in major cities enforcing religious decrees.

But while officially-appointed scholars tend to approve policy decisions proposed by the Saudi royal family, opposition from lower-ranking and popular clerics to government policy decisions have in the past been manifest.

Vocal calls for reform across Saudi society have increased over the past two decades particularly in the years following 9/11 with external pressure mounted on the kingdom to control preachers within the country and internal pressures to modernise both the economy and society.

But reforms have been often been opposed by the religious establishment, particularly in areas concerning the expansion of women’s rights to travel, drive and interpretations of the dress code.

Earlier in 2016, Saudi Arabia’s top-cleric Grand Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Aziz bin Abdullah al al-Sheikh, defended the country’s ban on female drivers.

Bin Salman’s comments are both an admission of the potential obstacles to the vaunted “Vision 2030” and a laying down of the gauntlet to those clerics wishing to halt the reforms.

This article was first published in The New Arab

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