SAUDI ARABIA - IV
Uploaded on April 25, 2018
On way to greater prosperity and prestige
Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Around the time President Barack H. Obama came to the White House in his first term a rather intriguing piece by a famous columnist appeared in several newspapers. In it he wrote something to the effect that Obama’s middle name was Hussein, and he would tilt towards Iran, the country which lives for the Love of Hussein, the martyred grandson of the Prophet (PBUH).
Mostly, people laughed it off as an interesting joke at best, because diplomacy was not about tilting towards a namesake. However, as the weeks, months and years passed by, America and Iran gradually inched closer, and ultimately signed an agreement committing Iran to forgoing weapon-grade uranium enrichment, thus staying a step short of making the nuclear bomb. That was followed by gradual lifting of Western sanctions against Iran.
Iran used this eight-year détente with America not to improve ties with the neighbouring Sunni countries, especially the Arabs, but in trying to increase the intensity of hostility, widening Shia-Sunni divisions in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. With such manipulations it encircled Saudi Arabia and cornered Sunnis with its aggressive policies. The Sunni countries that were not directly threatened by this menacing posture, too, took serious note of it. Among these were relatively powerful and influential countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. The events were so devastating that leaders from major Sunni countries mooted an alliance which was, rather inappropriately, termed a Sunni NATO.
Today, Sunnis have virtually been elbowed out of power in Iraq and Syria. Lebanon is remote-controlled by Iran. A part of the Palestinian movement is influenced by Iran. From Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Iran is instigating Shias against the regimes. Virtually every day Houthis are raining rockets on Riyadh and other cities in Saudi Arabia from the safety of Yemen. An Iran-orchestrated civil war is raging in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has to fight Shia (Houthi) insurgents in bordering Yemen to contain the war inside Yemen and stop it from crossing into Saudi Arabia. THIS IS THE GREATEST EXTERNAL CHALLENGE FOR SAUDI ARABIA, which it is surely going to overcome in days ahead.
The Saudi royal family has been traditionally close to America’s Republican establishment rather than to the Democrats. True to its instincts, the greatest harm to its interests (and, to a great extent, Sunni world’s interests) was done in the eight years of Obama presidency. No wonder, the Saudi king and his cabinet gave a cold reception to Obama last year during his visit and to some of the most important officials of the Administration. However, when Donald and Malania Trump visited they were given a warm, spectacular welcome with hugs, drum beats and colourful traditional dance. And, with that THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT EXTERNAL CHALLENGE was resolved. Iran is no longer free to do what it likes with its neighbours. Now, such acts will have their consequences. Even proxy wars will be taken note of, as President Trump has clearly said the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia will be taken as attacks on the United States. Only the instability in Iraq and war in Syria is allowing Houthis to continue their attacks. However, their days are numbered. The Iran-West détente, too, would not last long and sanctions would return, limiting Iran’s military options against Arabs.
Restructuring of the Saudi society and economy is THE MOST IMPORTANT INTERNAL CHALLENGE for the country. The tribal society that enjoys the 21st - century First World infrastructure, services and amenities, has to come out into the mainstream life, instead of staying aside and merely living on the sumptuous gifts from a benign welfare state that has no parallel in the world. This part of the Saudi society, which is a rather large section, should step out and create a vigorous working class whose labours create great societies. Every vibrant society and economy is built by the hard work of the people, rich, middle class and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, a lower middle class, as there are rarely any really poor Saudis.
The construction of such a large class of Saudis which works day and night for the glory and enrichment of the country is THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT INTERNAL CHALLENGE. The royal family is seiged of this problem and a programme of Arabisation of the work force, particularly the supervisory and executive class at company-level, policy-making class, as well as the upper strata of operations is needed. Under the present regime, this has to be accelerated for quicker outcomes. We learn from policy announcements and policy documents that this process is already accelerated.
A social restructuring is needed, and such a programme would meet the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT CHALLENGE. An advanced, technology-based, prosperous 21st century country needs an equally advanced society. The country has to bring a good number of people to adopt the lifestyles of prosperous cities rather than of the bedouin camps out in the desert. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, told Indians seven decades ago: “You cannot ride a motor car with a bullock cart mentality.” That is true for any society.
The MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL CHALLENGES, external and internal put together, is the revamping of the economy and taking it to the next stage. That will necessitate repair of the ageing infrastructure, construction of extensive new infrastructure, rejuvenation of the relatively new cities and industrial areas that have not been fully functional, as well as creation of new cities.
Energy market based on fossil fuels is in decline. Saudi Arabia will have to meet this challenge through greater diversification, limiting the focus on fossil fuels and installing huge capacities for renewable energy like hydro-electricity, solar and wind energy, for all of which the country has extraordinary scope.
Saudi Arabia is well on its way to becoming a much more developed and prosperous nation in days ahead. Their vision 2030 is a realistic goal that is certainly going to be achieved.