Mohammed bin Salman, a pioneering leader who understands reality and anticipates the future

Mohammed bin Salman, a pioneering leader who understands reality and anticipates the future

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Translated by Shatha Kalel
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Prime Minister, enjoys a great deal of personal respect and admiration that is no longer confined to Saudi Arabia but extends to Arab, regional, and Islamic nations. His significant reform approach in all fields and his ambitious vision for empowering youth and women, as well as his keen political insight into the security and stability of the region and the world, have been highly regarded. In just five years, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced radical changes and structural reforms that have contributed to rediscovering the Kingdom and showcasing its strengths, including its economic, natural, social, historical, and cultural resources.

Today, under wise leadership, Saudi Arabia positions itself as a prestigious model capable of overcoming all challenges, no matter how severe, at a time when many countries are experiencing political, security, and economic instability.

In 2015, the American magazine Foreign Policy included him in its annual list of the world’s most influential leaders, listing him among the top 100 global thinkers. In 2018, Arab youth selected Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the most influential figure in a survey of young people in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. He was also named the most prominent Arab figure of 2021 in a poll conducted by the Russian website RT. In the same year, the Arab League awarded him the “Shield of Development Work.” On April 4, 2022, the Australian Research Center’s website announced, based on survey results, that Prince Mohammed bin Salman was more popular in Indonesia than US President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The “Saudi Vision 2030” project, which he introduced on April 25, 2016, is one of the pioneering projects in the Kingdom. It aims to achieve sustainable development, implement structural reforms to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil dependency, and open up various sources of income and types of investments. Since the announcement of Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s achievements have been ongoing, placing Saudi Arabia on a path of strength by recognizing the unique potentials the Kingdom possesses to revive the past, develop the present, and support the future. These significant achievements are based on three main pillars within the objectives of Vision 2030: “A Thriving Nation, a Vibrant Society, and a Prosperous Economy.”

In an extensive interview with The Atlantic magazine, Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed several domestic and foreign issues. On the external front, Prince Mohammed said regarding Israel, “We do not view Israel as an enemy, but a potential ally in many interests that we can seek to achieve together. However, the issue between Palestinians and Israelis must be resolved, along with some issues before reaching that.” Prince Mohammed bin Salman also talked about Saudi-Iranian relations, saying, “They are our neighbors; we cannot get rid of them, and they cannot get rid of us. Therefore, it is better for us to resolve matters and seek ways to coexist.” When asked about Saudi-Qatari relations, Prince Mohammed answered, “We have wonderful and amazing relations with Qatar, and Sheikh Tamim is a wonderful person and leader.”

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman was asked about American interests in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he replied, “I am not American, so I do not know if I have the right to speak about American interests or not, but I believe that any country in the world has fundamental interests: economic, political, and security. This is the main basis for the foreign policy of any country. How can I drive my country’s economy forward? How can I enhance its security? How can I enhance its economic and political relations to ensure that my country is safe and growing, and has more investment and trade opportunities? So, I think these are America’s interests, which require doing what I mentioned earlier.”

Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20. You can see our ranking five years ago; we were close to the 20th position. Today, we are about to reach the 17th position among G20 countries, and we aspire to reach a higher position than the 15th by 2030. For example, our goal was to achieve a GDP growth rate of 5.9%, and we believe we achieved a rate of 5.6% in 2021, which certainly places us among the fastest-growing countries in the world. Next year, the entire economy is expected to grow by approximately 7%.

Saudi Arabia is not a small country; it is among the G20 nations and one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. This leads us to ask, where do global opportunities lie? They lie in Saudi Arabia. If you want to miss out on them, there are others in the East who would be very happy, and at the same time, you try to deter them. I cannot understand that.”

When Prince Mohammed was asked about Saudi-Chinese relations, he replied, “Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest-growing countries in the world and will soon become the fastest-growing country. We have two of the top ten sovereign wealth funds in the world, and the Kingdom holds one of the largest foreign currency reserves globally. Saudi Arabia has the capacity to meet 12% of the world’s demand for petroleum. It sits between three strategic maritime straits: the Suez Canal, Bab el-Mandeb, and the Strait of Hormuz, overlooking the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, through which about 27% of global trade passes. Total Saudi investments in America amount to $800 billion, and in China, up to this point, we have invested less than $100 billion, but it seems to be growing rapidly there as well. American companies have a significant focus on Saudi Arabia, as we have more than 300,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia, some holding dual citizenship, residing and increasing in number every day. So, the interests are clear, and it’s up to you whether you want to win or lose Saudi Arabia.

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman was asked about constitutional monarchy, he replied, “This will not succeed because the Kingdom was founded on absolute monarchy. Thousands of systems operate under it, including tribal chiefs, center and village leaders, as well as the Saudi royal family, which I represent, and the Saudi people whom I represent. These thousands of systems consider the King of Saudi Arabia their leader, the one who protects their interests. They constitute 13 to 14 million Saudis out of approximately 20 million, so I cannot overthrow 14 million Saudi citizens.”

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman was asked about extremism, he answered, “The Muslim Brotherhood plays a significant and massive role in creating all this extremism, with some serving as a bridge to extremism. When you talk to them, they don’t seem extremist, but they lead you to extremism. For example, Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the leader of ISIS was from the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood has been a powerful force in fostering extremism over the past decades. However, extremism is not limited to the Muslim Brotherhood alone but is a mixture of factors and events, not only from the Islamic world but even from America, which, by waging war in Iraq, gave extremists a golden opportunity. There are also some extremists in Saudi Arabia who are not from the Muslim Brotherhood and have played a role, especially after the revolution in Iran in 1979 and the attempt to seize the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Regarding Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, he was like other preachers and not a messenger but just a preacher, among many who worked as politicians and military personnel in the first Saudi state. The problem in the Arabian Peninsula at that time was that only those who could read or write were students of Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, and history was written from their perspective. This was misused by many extremists, but I am confident that if Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, and other scholars were present today, they would be at the forefront of fighting these terrorist extremist groups. The truth is that ISIS does not use a Saudi religious figure as an example to follow, but when this figure dies, ISIS elements then start misusing their words out of context, regardless of the circumstances of time and place in which they were issued.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab is not Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has Sunni and Shiite sects, with four Sunni schools of thought and several different Shiite ones as well, represented in several religious bodies. No one can promote one of these sects to make it the only way to see religion in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps this happened sometimes in the past due to events I have mentioned to you before, especially in the 1980s and 1990s and then in the early 21st century. But today we are putting things back on the right track, as I said before. We are returning to the basics, to pure Islam, to ensure that the essence of Saudi Arabia, based on Islam, culture, tribe, town, or region, serves the state, the people, the region, and the whole world, leading us to economic growth. This has happened in the past five years, so today, I’m not saying we might do it (return to pure Islam). If we had held this interview in 2016, you might have said that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is making assumptions, but we did it, and you can see it now in Saudi Arabia. Just come and check the situation, and look at videos of Saudi Arabia six or seven years ago. We have done a lot, and there are still things left to do, and we will do them.

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman was asked about Vision 2030, he replied, “There are many people who want to ensure that my project, Saudi Arabia’s today, Vision 2030, fails, but they will not be able to touch it, and it will never fail. There is no one on this planet with the power to make it fail. You can slow it down by 5%, that’s the most you can do, but more than that, no one can do anything. I don’t want to accuse anyone, as there are a few groups that anyone with good knowledge can identify the connection between those groups in the West and the groups in the Middle East, who have interests in seeing us fail.”

It is undeniable that this interview was filled with content and messages presented with conviction and realism… An ambitious leader who recognizes the importance of his country’s historical legacy, its foreign relations, and the pillars of its stability within a forward-looking vision that keeps pace with the times, leading the Kingdom towards further development and progress. Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s talk contained a clear and comprehensive diagnosis of the political, economic, and social realities and how to build on sources of strength and address challenges wisely and with an understanding of mechanisms for positive change… Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the mind with the logic of someone confident that nations are built through work, achievement, and foresight into the future.

In conclusion, Prince Mohammed bin Salman is an exceptional figure, not only at the regional level but also at the global level, representing with his deep vision, reformist approach, and strategic outlook on foreign policy and regional crises a pivotal point in the present and future of political and economic decision-making regionally and internationally.

Economic Studies Unit / North America Office
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies