Battle Royal for Young Saudi Prince’s Reform Vision

On April 25, Saudi Arabia announced a grandiose plan for reform and national transformation called “Vision 2030”. The plan, which was approved by the country’s Cabinet, is attributed to the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. It is supported by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, demonstrating that it has the official approval of the House of Saud.
If implemented, the program would present a landmark event in the kingdom’s short social and economic history comparable to the 1932 unification of the kingdom in terms of importance.
According to the plan, the kingdom will float five percent of its shares in state-owned oil giant ARAMCO, estimated to be worth between $20 trillion and $25 trillion, as well as other unspecified holdings, on stock markets in Saudi Arabia and overseas. The money raised will be placed in a public investment fund (PIF) that will invest in the acquisition of companies and large factories throughout the world. According to the deputy crown prince, the fund would even be able to purchase corporate powerhouses on the scale of Facebook, Apple and Google. Thus, the Saudi economy would rely to a great extent on foreign investment, not only on oil profits. Those planning the ambitious steps intend to diversify and expand the economy while preventing the continuation of the dependence on oil and the resulting difficulties from the fluctuation of its price.
The new economic plan is supposed to herald a major change in the conservative country’s economy and society. If it is carried out, Saudi Arabia will become a strategic investor in the global economy and open its markets to individual and corporate investors in a range of sectors and fields, including those that were under the government's responsibility until now. The foreign investors will benefit from regulatory and bureaucratic changes that will allow them to live and work in the kingdom for long periods.
According to Vision 2030, ARAMCO will continue to produce oil and develop the local oil sector, but at the same time it will be transformed into an international company. Saudi Arabia does not intend to give up its capabilities and its leading position in the global oil market, and will continue to use its advantages for the inexpensive production of crude oil. Therefore, ARAMCO is to maintain its regional and global influence on the oil sector and on the price of oil in international markets. The plan aims to benefit young Saudi men and women under the age of 40 who make up 60 percent of the population, as well as the private sector and wealthy Saudis and foreigners who are expected to purchase ARAMCO stock.
Vision 2030 promises them jobs and new opportunities, a solution for the lack of housing, improvement of the health system and expansion of sport and leisure facilities.
In addition, the strategy, which is still in the stage of planning and marketing, is expected to open up the society which until now kept itself tightly closed to foreigners and foreign influences. This shift will almost certainly be welcomed by some young people in the kingdom who would like a more open and modern lifestyle. But at the same time it threatens conservative forces, such as the religious establishment, owners of family businesses and traditional bodies, even among young Saudis who have been prevented until now from expressing support for the plan or even responding to it.
If Vision 2030 is implemented, it may bring about a substantial revision of the country’s conservative lifestyle, and just as importantly a composition change of the elites and the internal balance of power. These conservative forces may oppose the plan and become more influential in the future.
DEBKA Weekly’s Saudi experts predict that there may be strong opposition within the royal family itself and growing personal opposition to Mohammed bin Sultan as the initiator of the plan, although the first signs of his reform surfaced during the reign of King Abdullah, who died a year ago.
There are some signs that the royal family has not yet internalized the transition to the new system of succession to the throne, or the revolutionary initiatives of the young deputy crown prince. After King Salman passes away, those who oppose his son may boost their efforts to sabotage his reform plan and remove him from power.

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