The Wilson Center offers a detailed explanation of why Saudi citizens remain uneasy about Vision 2030, a plan to reinvent the country’s economic picture.
“The main question for 2030 is: Does it depend on one person only, or is there a state behind it?” remarked Abdullah al-Shammri, a former Saudi diplomat and policy analyst who noted that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef , who is also interior minister, has no personal stake in the venture.
Made public with much fanfare a year ago this month, Vision 2030’s multitude of goals includes sweeping social reforms, and it initially aroused enormous public enthusiasm. This was true particularly among Saudi Arabia’s restless youth delighted by its promotion of entertainment in the face of strong opposition from the kingdom’s ultra conservative Wahhabi clerics.
But an economic downturn plus controversial first steps taken to implement the vision have noticeably dampened this enthusiasm. Consumer spending has crashed and the overall economy ground almost to a standstill, with the IMF lowering its estimate for growth this year from 2 percent to 0.4 percent. The government faces a $85 billion deficit in its current budget even after putting $266 billion in projects on hold. Still, the kingdom is hardly about to go bankrupt.
The Wilson Center and Business Insider noted the government reversed itself recently. As Business Insider noted,
Back in September, the kingdom announced it was slashing ministers’ salaries by 20%; cutting salaries of the members of the Shura Council, which advises the monarchy, by 15%; and canceling bonus payments for state employees. That caused consumer confidence to tumble further from already depressed levels and promoted a backlash on social media.
On Sunday, the Saudi government reversed at least some of that policy.
“The Saudi government’s decision to reinstate benefits for civil servants appears to be a U-turn on one of the more unpopular austerity measures,” Capital Economics Middle East economist Jason Turvey wrote.
There is a geopolitical reason why the success or failure of Vision 2030 will be watched carefully in the region and around the world. Writing on Al Jazeera’s website, Martin Reardon, who is senior vice president of a security and intelligence group, states
Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in their own decades-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines – Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.
He adds that the deep differences between the two nations makes a rapprochement unlikely.