Is there any method in ‘madness’ in Saudi Arabia!

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia

There is widely held apprehension that the young crown prince is pushing the kingdom on high risk path of destabilization for his personal gain.  Commenting on his motives will be conjectural and possibly judgmental. On more serious note it would be imperative to deconstruct his moves contextually. It began with Arab uprising when the Arab ruling dispensations were made to realize that though ‘apolitical’ in nature, the street could throw out the most powerful rulers in no time. Though the uprising failed to move to its logical consequences, it certainly made the regional governments recognize the need to engage with the street. The oil-rich countries thought of co-opting them with the financial compensation but their fiscal health in the wake of changing oil market made them look at the issues more pragmatically. Saudi Arabia faced the challenge in most acute form because of its demography, its vulnerable dependence on oil, erosion of its religious leaders and the shift in US policy as the security guarantor. Clearly the system could not have been sustained on the premise it was conceived. A new premise was needed to negotiate with unfolding realities. It needed a leadership who could undertake this task. The objective conditions thus clearly demanding for a bold departure which only a visionary leadership could undertake. The rise of crown prince thus needed to be analyzed in this context. The subject of scrutiny must be his concept and vision of post-oil Saudi Arabia, his approach and finally, he will be judged by its execution.

     The Vision 2030 is a very comprehensive document with very ambitious targets. The roadmap that is being unfolded reflects the strategy where primacy is being given to create an enabling ecosystem for youth of the country to be constructively engaged with the system. It is not cooption that is being envisaged but engagement. Incidentally, Arab Human Development Report 2017 says very clearly that the security and stability of the region lies with the empowerment of the youth. The thrust is on promoting entrepreneurial culture- the start-ups to radical changes in the education system to moderate Islam, are moves to create a system to position country on a regional and global platform as leading power from the region on its own capacities and strength than the borrowed wherewithal. No nation can conceive itself as power without developing its own capabilities. The vision is a document towards it.  Devos in Desert is the projection and endorsement of the agenda of new Saudi Arabia from the global players.  A Saudi Arabia, is not addicted to oil, against the extremist ideology and open to business. IPOing Aramco and transferring its share to PIF is the new DNA of the country

   There is method in developing alternative sites with modern logistics for global transaction on the Red sea.  The multibillion dollar ( $ 500 billion) Neom megacity on Eyptian Jordanian borders on an expanse of 10,231 square miles illustrates the kingdom’s strategic understanding that Arabian peninsula is vulnerable to security threat.

   There is method in promoting social quotient by encourage women into the mainstream to negotiate with the “Wahabi” constituency.  It is very intelligent economic move to ease the fiscal burden of the rentier state when oil revenue is depleting. It is estimated that by allowing women to drive the Kingdom will save $5.3 billion. It is smart move to reframe the cultural construct to channelize creativity of young Saudi nationals in cinema or in sports rather then allowing it to get drifted towards jehadi constituency. The moves are socially embedded thereby ensuring irreversibility. No wonder it is seen as silent social revolution.

   Surely a country known for tricky succession politics within iron curtain is finding difficult to comprehend that the succession this time is attempted along the trajectory of transformation on public glare. The crown prince certainly intends to graduate his country to non oil era and visualizes a nation in normal mode of pre 1979 era of moderation. Surely he would like to leverage and seek legitimacy of his ascendancy on the strength of his vision and its realization.

   Perhaps two contentious issues that need explanations are the pace of the transformation and the coercive methods. The momentous transformation that is being attempted possibly cannot be attempted in a gradual way. It has to be disruptive to come out the vestiges of the rentier mindset. Disruption bounds to destruct the prevailing power equation hence coercion becomes the unpleasant choice. It is well known that some of the finance with those behind the bar continues to go to terrorist outfits despite the commitment of the government to join the global fight against it. It cannot be imagined that such a task could be accomplished by a traditional method of consensus despite its intrinsic value. Similarly, it cannot be denied that threat perception is mounted to instil the sense of solidarity to gloss over the glitches that could erupt either by design or default.

    The stakes are very high in the successful implementation of transition in Saudi Arabia. The domino impact of the Kingdom in the Gulf region does not need elaboration. No wonder all stakeholders including India has to calibrate its approach by comprehending the dynamics of change in the wider frame.  The leading external players like USA, Russia, China and the Europe have lent their support to the change. However, reservations are expressed on Saudi moves in Lebanon and Yemen not to mention Iran.  The arrest of some of the royal family members has annoyed their friends in West. Attempts are being made to mobilize pressure to mend the ways. 

     The dominant narrative to look at developments in Saudi Arabia in terms of ‘war for succession’  may not be totally off the mark but to evaluate it merely in terms of accession to power will mean negating the structural dynamics that create the condition for disruptive change. Apparently, the structural compulsions are driving the kingdom to make a quantum leap forward.

Also published on Medium.