New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia
In a surprise move, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud appointed his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as heir to the Saudi throne and relieved Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz of his positions as crown prince, deputy prime minister and interior minister.
The Saudi royal court announced the reshuffle June 21 with a statement that said Prince Mohammed bin Salman would take over as deputy prime minister, remain as defence minister and retain his other posts.
The statement said the appointment was approved by 31 of the 34 members of the Saudi Allegiance Council, which includes senior members of the royal family who determine succession in the kingdom.
On Twitter, Saudis preferred method of social media interaction, numerous hashtags related to the new crown prince trended heavily, with many celebrating the appointment and others pleading allegiance, bringing traditional Saudi customs into a modern technological context.
“I pledge my allegiance to his Royal Highness, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. May God protect our country and preserve its glory,” wrote Saudi user Fahd Alsaqabi . Abdullah Alshehry wrote: “May God help our new crown prince to elevate our country economically, politically and socially for the good of its citizens.”
Domestically, the news was reported with a sense of optimism and the reshuffle had a positive effect on the Saudi stock exchange, the largest in the Middle East. The Tadawul index increased more than 5%, an indication of trader confidence related to the appointment.
The choice of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, as crown prince makes him the youngest heir to the throne in Saudi history and comes at a time of major changes in the kingdom, known traditionally for its measured pace in dealing with matters related to domestic policy. Several young princes were appointed to high-profile government positions, ushering in a new generation of power.
Since entering the political spotlight in early 2015, Prince Mohammed has generated a reputation as a hard-working, results-orientated reformist, unafraid of making difficult decisions and with a clear vision of where he wants Saudi Arabia to be, domestically, regionally and internationally.
One of the prince’s biggest achievements has been the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the most far-reaching and ambitious programme for Saudi reform and restructuring ever seriously proposed.”
The plan is designed to wean the Saudi economy off its traditional dependency on the energy sector, while creating jobs, stimulating the private sector and modernising Saudi Arabia. A large component of the plan is focused on issues related to the kingdom’s young people, who are estimated to be more than half of the country’s population.
The centrepiece of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan is to be the initial public offering of 1-5% interest in Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, valued at an estimated $2 trillion. Prince Mohammed said the measures would raise at least $100 billion a year by 2020, tripling non-oil income.
Another aspect of Vision 2030 is the promotion of a kingdom-based entertainment industry, with the goal of bringing commerce and recreation together. In February, the kingdom had its first Comic Con exhibition, which attracted more than 20,000 visitors, despite fears of a backlash from the religious establishment.
In May 2016, the kingdom set up the General Authority for Entertainment, tasked with putting together an entertainment industry. One of its first endeavours was signing a deal with the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for a $500 million theme park to be built outside of Riyadh.
General Authority for Entertainment Authority CEO Amr al-Madani said that, by 2020, there will be more than 450 clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and events in Saudi Arabia, creating 100,000 jobs.
Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.