Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the challenges of modernizing Saudi Arabia

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Time: April 08, 2018

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS, begins his visit to France on Monday.
This visit is bound to raise a torrent of curiosities and comments, mainly from those who have never met him and especially those who have never set foot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Since he took charge as the crown prince of the country, the world has focused its attention on his actions and utterances.
Not a few challenges
Within the Kingdom, MBS has to maintain a delicate balance between modernizing the country without alarming the traditionalists, overseeing a better redistribution of the country’s wealth and also diversifying the economy. And overseas, he has to change the image in the outside world that Saudi Arabia has developed over the years, watch over the nation’s alliance and its borders, and fight against Iran and its proxies.

Saudi Arabia intends to play its role of regional power in regional and international organizations and that is an excellent development. 

Nathalie Goulet

MBS is not simply a marketing tool. Having met him at length in 2016, I could see that within 18 months a number of his projects have already been given the go-ahead for implementation.
Vision 2030 is deeply ingrained in the mentalities and in actions. With the Saudi Arabia of 2018, there is a paradigm shift. Yes, it is undoubtedly necessary to review our preconceived notions and our prejudices about the Saudi Arabia of 2018, and probably that of 2030.
With a condescending tone, journalists speak at length of the “Young Prince.” Instead, they should speak of the crown prince who has a well-structured and highly motivated team to change the country.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s top team 
Women of all backgrounds are part of MBS’ team. They did not come out of a magic hat nor did they come all of sudden from nowhere. They have all been working for a long time in their respective fields to forge a place of their own in the Saudi society. Now, they find that with the Vision 2030 and the current policies of the government, they have the means to put their skills and competences in the service of modernization of their country.
Far from being an adornment, MBS has created a strong team by bringing together some of the leading women of the Kingdom.
The Vision 2030 has been reinforced not only with a lot of communication, and of course, the means to attain the vision, but also the political will that is needed for backing such a transformative project.
Of course, not everything will happen at the same time. The reforms undertaken in the past 18 months are much more in number and impact those undertaken in the previous 40 years. Take the fight against corruption, money laundering and the financing of terrorism — Saudi Arabia has been working for years to stop this illegal funding.
Are you still skeptic? 
Saudi Arabia regularly participates in the work of the Egmont Group and is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and is also an independent observer in the FATF. It also cooperates with all international regulatory bodies.
The work done by the crown prince to combat terror financing, money laundering and corruption goes well beyond the events of the Hotel Ritz-Carlton that made global headlines.
Concrete steps have been taken by the Kingdom. For example, Saudi Arabia has banned Zakat or charitable donations in cash. Now, donations to charities have to be sent through bank transfers and only to certain certified organizations, and any money transfer overseas is not possible unless it is accompanied with a list of documents for the verification of the beneficiary.
This radical change has been inscribed in the royal decrees and in the texts of the Shoura Council and is strictly enforced. Yet, it remains a recurring grievance against this country, despite all steps that it has taken to put an end to it.
In the same way, the Kingdom has adopted a tool to fight terrorism on the social networks, by creating a Saudi FBI, Etidal, a technological phenomenon that is capable of analyzing millions of messages within minutes and identifying the origin of hate messages or messages sent by terrorist groups. It is a wealth of useful information in the fight against terrorism.
At the international level, Saudi Arabia’s vision, as well as that of the crown prince, is clear: To ensure the security of the Kingdom, within the framework of global agreements. It is in this context that Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen, to defeat the Houthi militias, armed by an Iran that has undermined the country and threatens the security of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia intends to play its role of regional power in regional and international organizations and that is an excellent development.
Overcoming a controversial reputation is a long and difficult task, be it for individuals or states. It needs time to convince and also needs time to address issues related to human rights and fundamental freedoms. Paris was not built in a day, neither will be Riyadh.
Of course, all the objective efforts made by this country in terms of openness to the world are to be seen in the local context of a Muslim country governed by the Shariah. We, in France, cannot adhere to these practices, but they do nonetheless fall under the sovereignty of the Saudi State.
It is necessary to watch, without being naive, the efforts of modernization of the Kingdom and especially to try to understand the reality of a country with strong traditions and obligations to the Muslim world as the Custodian of the Two Mosques.
The meeting that MBS had in New York with the main actors of the Jewish community and his subsequent statements are strong evidence of commitment and openness that no one could have imagined even a few months ago.
All this is not without risk in a world that is more prone to intolerance than to respect for difference. That is why it is important to follow and watch the Vision 2030.
A Saudi Arabia that is open to the world is a guarantee of stability and peace in the region and the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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