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The 'Fifth Storm'! The 14 Months Since King Salman Ascended The Throne, Wwitnessing Three Other Major Transformations

22 May 2016

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is not our first storm. During the 14 months since King Salman ascended the throne, we have witnessed three other major transformations.

The first was the Administrative Storm. It reshuffled the Cabinet, and restructured the Executive branch. The moves included the dissolving of a dozen Higher Councils. In their place two Ministerial Councils were formed: The Political and Security Council, headed by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, and the Economic and Development Council led by Deputy Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense.

More royal decrees followed to slim down and streamline government bureaucracy, lower state expenditures and increase non-oil revenues.

Next, came the Military and Security Storm. Saudi Arabia was facing an existential threat. Iran must have confused our patience for weakness. It seemed to think we were either napping or afraid. Its bases in neighboring Yemen, Sudan and Eritrea had encircled us with pointed missiles and loaded guns.

Therefore, one may imagine the shocking reality check Iran's leaders suffered when the Saudi-led Arab Alliance lunched the Decisive Storm in Yemen. It was only the beginning. Later, they witnessed the formation of the Islamic Military Alliance and the Northern Thunder maneuvers. As a result, Saudi Arabia today is more secured and protected, assertive and effective than ever. The Administrative and Military storms were accompanied by unprecedented Diplomatic Storm.

The late Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and his successor Adel Al-Jubeir have led a major campaign to unite the world behind the Saudi drive to restore legitimately and peace in Yemen, and to fight terrorism in the region and the Muslim World.

These efforts culminated in the consensus of 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn Iran and its militias for sponsoring terrorism and disruptive behavior. Riyadh has become a meeting point for world leaders. The Saudi capital hosted many regional and international conferences, the last of which were four regional and global summits, within 48 hours.

Today, the new Economy and Development Storm takes us to a new era where we drastically reduce our dependence on easy oil revenues. The National Transformation Plan aims to make our economy more productive and less reliant on state handouts.

It would privatize public companies and services, increase private sector contribution and encourage more foreign investments. A new military holding company would localize military industry, increasing its percentage from 2 to 50%.

The new economy will be built on three core strengths: Our Arab and Islamic leadership; the country's strategic geographic location as a hub connecting Asia, Africa and Europe; and our vast natural resources, including uranium, gold, silver, aluminum, iron and phosphate, in addition to oil and gas.

As Saudi men and women stand front and center in the development plan, grand programs are envisioned for their education, training and preparation. After all, they are the ones who would participate, manage, invest in and benefit from all economic and development projects.

For them, plans are being made for improving educational, health, recreational, sports and tourism services, as well as encouraging volunteerism, and social and cultural activities. All these storms have done well in translating our hopes and dreams into realities. However, I do believe we also need a fifth The Intellectual and Cultural Storm.

We need radical changes in our lifestyle and mentality to be more tolerant, civilized and oriented toward scientific and logical thinking.

This is vital if we are to interact well with the expected waves of investors, partners and guest workers coming from widely diversified cultures. How would someone rooted in a unilateral thought, for example, be able to interact with foreign tourists and investors in a spirit of cooperation, acceptance and tolerance?

And how can we change the convictions of a young generation that has grown up into an isolationist social shell, suspicious of foreigners and resistant to change?

How those whose culture despised handicraft and serving others could benefit from the upcoming opportunities in the industrial, technical and service sectors?

And how to succeed in the fight against corruption, if we don't root out the cultural tolerance for it, at home, school and work? Today, we celebrate the dawn of a new era based on the culture of production, self-sufficiency, constructive engagement, transparency and openness. And as we celebrate the administrative, military, political and economic development storms, I'd call for an Intellectual and Cultural Storm to root out deviant ideologies, customs and traditions, and to reinforce the culture of logic and scientific research, as well as true Islamic principles and morals.

To succeed in so immense a mission, we need the participation of universities, research centers, and religious, social, media and educational institutions. Our public and civil societies must join hands in administering research projects, workshops, conventions and public awareness campaigns.

The Fifth Storm is needed now for all storms and plans to succeed.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached atkbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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