Saudi Gazette – DEPUTY Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, is regarded as the youthful architect and chief promoter of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The vision, a blue print for the Kingdom’s shining future, unveiled by Prince Muhammad on April 25, will not only overhaul the Kingdom’s economy but has the potential to ensure its prosperity in all sectors for decades to come. On June 6, Saudi Arabia launched the National Transformation Program (NTP), setting targets for the program through 2020.
The main objectives of the Vision 2030 and NTP are to create an environment of economic security and elevating the Kingdom’s regional and international status, without compromising on its fundamental principles based on the Islamic Shariah. This was clearly spelled out by the Deputy Crown Prince when he wrote in the foreword to Vision 2030: “Our Vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method”. Underlining the essence of the Vision, he said: “Our nation is the core of the Arab and Islamic worlds and represents the heart of Islam. We are confident that, God willing, we will build a brighter future, one based on the bedrock of Islamic principles.” The Deputy Crown Prince also noted that the Vision 2030 is very ambitious and clear cut road map for the Kingdom’s overall development.
Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman is the youngest minister of defense in the world. He is also the chief of the Royal Court and chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), an apex body that oversees the Kingdom’s ongoing economic overhaul and reforms. Holder of a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University, he served as a consultant for the Experts Commission, working for the Saudi Cabinet.
On Dec. 15 2009, Prince Muhammad entered politics as a special advisor to his father when the latter was the emir of Riyadh. In November 2011, when King Salman became the Deputy Crown Prince and defense minister, Prince Muhammad was made his private advisor. In June 2012, when Crown Prince Naif died the then Deputy Crown Prince Salman became the Crown Prince. On March 2, 2013, Prince Saud Bin Naif, the chief of the Crown Prince’s court, was appointed emir of the Eastern Province and Prince Muhammad succeeded him to the post. He was also given the rank of minister. On April 25, 2014, Prince Muhammad was appointed state minister. When King Abdullah died on Jan. 23, 2015, and Salman ascended the throne, Prince Muhammad was appointed minister of defense. He was also named as the secretary general of the Royal Court on the same date.
The first major event in his tenure as defense minister was Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led military operation to restore legitimacy in Yemen. In April 2015, King Salman appointed Prince Muhammad Bin Naif as Crown Prince and Prince Muhammad Bin Salman as Deputy Crown Prince.
Since his appointment as CEDA chief on Jan. 29, 2015, Prince Muhammad has made addressing the long-term challenges facing the Kingdom a priority. The Vision 2030 and NTP are part of that effort. The centerpiece of the economic overhaul initiative is the proposed public listing of Aramco to make it the world’s biggest publicly traded company and the development of its investment fund into a $2 trillion behemoth. With those initiatives, the government’s non-oil revenue is forecast to climb astronomically, making Saudi Arabia vastly less reliant on oil. Analysts say the plan, which calls for the biggest shake-up the Kingdom has ever attempted, has the potential to modernize one of the world’s most socially conservative societies while liberating the country from its long-standing reliance on oil. The salient features of the Vision include cutting government subsidies, increasing the private sector’s share of economic activity, removing barriers to investment, boosting transparency and accountability, and creating more than 450,000 private sector jobs.
The Vision 2030 isn’t just about diversification. It includes an array of social initiatives, including doubling the number of women in the workforce, increasing the number of women in top government posts to 5 percent from 1.2 percent, and developing national parks (quadrupling the area per capita) in a bid to promote domestic tourism.
The powerful young prince behind modernizing reforms in Saudi Arabia has become the champion of the Kingdom’s plugged-in youth. A majority of Saudis (70 percent) are young, urban and switched on, using the Internet and social media more than their peers around the Arab world. Younger Saudis face entrenched unemployment, a skills shortage, a lack of appropriate housing and a coming economic crunch as the Kingdom’s oil income grows ever less able to finance the needs of a rapidly rising population, and hence Prince Muhammad pitched the Vision 2030 reforms at this young population, promising to unlock their “talent, potential and dedication”.
The charismatic Deputy Crown Prince was highly successful in marketing the Vision and NTP during his high-profile global tour in recent months. He is keen on promoting Saudi Arabia as a dynamic economy that reforms are unshackling from the statist model of its past with the ultimate goal of creating new private sector jobs for younger people in the country. During his trip to the United States, Prince Muhammad pitched Saudi Arabia as an investment destination for American companies, securing some unbinding agreements from major corporates to look into projects in the Kingdom.
He has successfully carried out his mandate to convince Washington and Paris of the Kingdom’s determination to transform its economy as outlined in the Vision and NTP. In his US tour in June, he met with CEOs and business leaders representing energy, defense, healthcare and IT industries and signed several agreements with some of the global giants including Microsoft, Facebook and Cisco, besides bolstering bilateral ties by meeting with President Barack Obama and other politicians in Washington. He has also tried to overcome Western stereotypes of Saudis, meeting foreign media to sell his vision of market-oriented reforms and a transformation of the Kingdom’s society.
Prince Muhammad sought cooperation not only from the West but also from the East. Saudi Arabia took center stage as the Deputy Crown Prince attended the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, earlier this month. A new era was heralded in relations with Russia, Japan, and Pakistan with his visit. During the visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Deputy Crown Prince as a “very reliable partner with whom you can reach agreements, and can be certain that those agreements will be honored.”
The global media is describing the Deputy Crown Prince as the “prince of change and the new face of Saudi Arabia,” while Twitter followers are calling him the new Saudi spirit reflected in government and people speaking the same language. With oil prices fluctuating on the lower side, Saudi Arabia’s plan to increase its non-oil revenues by 2020 under the Vision and NTP has drawn the attention of economists and financial experts both within the Kingdom and overseas. The International Monetary Fund has welcomed accelerated economic reforms by Saudi Arabia to reduce its reliance on oil and said the Kingdom was cutting spending at the right speed to cope with its budget deficit.
The Deputy Crown Prince was also hailed for the Kingdom’s three-pronged approach to counter-terrorism. According to the New York Times, “Prince Muhammad has moved quickly to revolutionize his country’s economy in ways that offer tantalizing hints at even broader reforms,” is now establishing and spearheading “a new comprehensive, locally and internationally coordinated counter-terrorism strategy.” Forbes Middle East awarded Prince Muhammad, in his capacity as chairman of the Prince Salman Youth Centre, the “Personality of the Year” award, in recognition of his efforts to support the youth and communicate their successes to the world.
The Deputy Crown Prince is also well-known for his humanitarian and charity initiatives. The main objective of the Prince Muhammad Bin Salman Foundation or MiSK, chaired by him, is to help disadvantaged youth, and its activities are truly a feather in cap of the “Kingdom of Humanity.”