Muhammad Bin Salman strides across the global stage with the confidence of a leader reshaping a nation and its place in the international chess game. His role in the development of Saudi Arabia is a narrative woven with ambition, controversy, and a vision that has both its ardent critics and fervent supporters. Let’s start with the canvas of Saudi Arabia before MBS stepped into the limelight. For decades, the kingdom was synonymous with oil — the lifeblood of the global economy. It was a land where tradition and conservative Islamic values painted the societal norms, and change when it came, moved at a glacial pace. Into this setting, Muhammad Bin Salman emerged, first as the Deputy Crown Prince in 2015 and then as the Crown Prince in 2017, bearing the torch of a transformative vision for the country’s future.
At the heart of MBS’s role in reshaping Saudi Arabia is Vision 2030, a bold blueprint aimed at diversifying the kingdom’s economy away from oil. Imagine the audacity of trying to change the economic DNA of a country. Vision 2030 is not just a plan; it’s a leap into the unknown, guided by the belief in the potential of a nation. The plan encompasses sweeping economic and social reforms, including increasing non-oil industry trade, developing public service sectors, and fostering a more vibrant society. One of the cornerstone projects of Vision 2030 is NEOM, a $500 billion futuristic city on the Red Sea coast, promising to be a hub for innovation and a testament to what human ambition can achieve.
It’s as if MBS is not just building for today but sculpting a legacy for centuries.
Under MBS’s watch, Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented social reforms that have altered the fabric of its society. The lifting of the driving ban on women in June 2018 was a watershed moment, symbolic of a broader movement towards women’s empowerment in the kingdom. It was a decision that resonated globally, challenging stereotypes and inviting the world to look at Saudi Arabia through a new lens. Furthermore, MBS has significantly emphasized youth empowerment, recognizing that the kingdom’s predominantly young population is its greatest challenge and its most potent asset. Initiatives aimed at education, employment, and entrepreneurship are laying the groundwork for a future that seeks to harness the energy and creativity of its youth.
MBS’s commitment to innovation and technology as pillars of Saudi Arabia’s future is unmistakable. The establishment of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) and the launch of the National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence reflect a clear focus on harnessing the power of technology for national development. These initiatives are not just about adopting technology but about leading in the digital era.
MBS envisions a kingdom where technology drives economic growth, improves government efficiency, and enhances the quality of life for its citizens.
Under MBS’s stewardship, Saudi Arabia is undergoing a cultural revolution. The kingdom has opened its doors to entertainment, sports, and the arts like never before. The once-conservative nation now hosts international concerts, movie theaters, and sporting events, including the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. This cultural opening is a strategic move by MBS to diversify the economy and create a more vibrant society that attracts tourists, investors, and talent from around the globe. Moreover, MBS has been instrumental in promoting Saudi heritage and culture internationally, showcasing the kingdom’s rich history and traditions. The AlUla project, aimed at transforming the ancient Nabatean city into a global tourist destination, is a prime example of how MBS is leveraging Saudi Arabia’s cultural assets to fuel economic growth and international engagement.
His proactive approach to international relations also defines MBS’s role in Saudi Arabia’s development. He has worked to strengthen ties with traditional allies while reaching out to new partners. His visits to countries like China, Russia, and India signify a strategic diversification of alliances and economic partnerships. MBS understands that in the multipolar world of the 21st century, Saudi Arabia must engage with a broad spectrum of nations to secure its interests and place on the global stage. However, MBS’s international endeavors have not been without controversy. The Yemen conflict and the diplomatic rift with Qatar (though resolved in 2021) have sparked criticism and raised questions about the kingdom’s foreign policy under his leadership. MBS’s approach to these challenges underscores the complexity of balancing ambitious domestic reforms with the intricacies of regional politics and global diplomacy.
Saudi Arabia International Collaborations
As we look to the future, it’s clear that MBS’s vision for Saudi Arabia is profoundly transformed. Yet, the path ahead is filled with challenges. Economic diversification, social reform, and international engagement are ambitious goals that require visionary leadership and resilience to navigate the obstacles that lie in the way. Critics and supporters will watch closely to see how MBS addresses these challenges. Will the kingdom achieve the lofty goals of Vision 2030? Can Saudi Arabia balance its ambitious reforms with the need for political stability and regional peace? These are questions that will unfold in the years to come.
Lastly, MBS’s role in the development of Saudi Arabia shows that we are witnessing a pivotal chapter in the kingdom’s history. MBS embodies the aspirations of a young nation eager to claim its place in the modern world. His leadership is a blend of ambition, audacity, and a deep-seated belief in his country’s potential. The story of MBS and Saudi Arabia is more than just a narrative of power and politics; it’s about the dreams of a nation and its quest for a future that promises prosperity, innovation, and a new identity on the world stage. As this chapter continues to unfold, the world watches with bated breath, eager to see how the ambitions of a young crown prince will transform the desert kingdom into a global powerhouse of the 21st century.
Ph.D. completed at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa (SSSUP)