The challenges of the Saudi national transformation plan

samrSamar Fatany

The national transformation plan outlined by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, is an ambitious and daring move that can finally put an end to the strong hold of extremists in Saudi Arabia. The 2030 Vision includes major changes not only to diversify the economy but more importantly to change the hardline mindset that rejected many past initiatives to introduce socioeconomic changes and transform the country into a modern state.

The plan seems very promising on paper; however, when it comes to implementation, there are many obstacles that could obstruct the transformation path. The plan needs people with leadership qualities, who are bold, progressive, charismatic, wise and competent and above all have the moral integrity to confront challenges and provide innovative solutions. The process will fail if we do not put the right man or woman in the right place. Saudi political analysts stress the need for qualified and more experienced lawmakers, expert strategists and officials who are innovative and can come up with constructive policies to execute the transformation plan.

The leadership needs to curb the dominance of ultra-conservatives who could obstruct the transformation plan with their intolerant sectarian, extremist and racist attitudes. The plan should include grassroots changes to empower moderate intellectuals, academics and professionals with a progressive vision for change.

Opinion leaders must now rise to the occasion and lead a constructive debate to influence change and unite the nation. Citizens should show their strong support for government moves against hardliners who will naturally reject any attempt to undermine their radical and rigid control that has stood against many earlier initiatives for meaningful reforms.

Reforming the judiciary remains critical for the success of the national transformation plan. Social justice calls for effective, codified Shariah to make both men and women aware of their legal rights and make them law-abiding and contributing citizens. The guardianship rule and not allowing women to drive are examples of the discrimination that is holding our country back. To move our country forward, we need to spread the culture of human rights so that every citizen has a right to a good life based on true Islamic values of tolerance, justice and respect for all mankind.

We can catch up with global progress by activating a vibrant civil society that complements government policies, pushes the implementation of laws and promotes the skills of citizenship and ethical behavior essential for a more productive society.

Prince Muhammad Bin Salman stated that one of the key goals is to increase art, culture and entertainment facilities for citizens. He promised to invest in museums, theaters and cultural activities. He said there are plans to open the largest Islamic museum in the world and to register Saudi archaeological sites with UNESCO.

Prince Muhammad highlighted the history of very important civilizations that existed in Saudi Arabia dating back thousands of years. He said European civilizations have many historical sites in Saudi Arabia, and they are an important component of the Arab civilization found in our country. He stated that we need to use these sites to open the door for tourists of all nationalities.

These are daring ideas that do not sit well with extremists who have destroyed many archaeological sites and historical monuments deeming them un-Islamic. To implement such a worthy plan we need to engage moderate imams who can respect diversity and embrace modernity. We need the support of Islamic scholars who live in the present and do not insist on arbitrarily imposing the lifestyles of the past – especially with no clear Qur’anic ruling to support their hardline views. It is time we change the negative mindset and support a universal attitude that is moderate and progressive.

Saudi scholars of different sects and different schools of thought have a responsibility to promote the genuine message of Islamic tolerance. They need to come up with a stronger narrative that negates the extremist ideology. Only then can we implement the transformation plan to help Saudi Arabia assume its role as the leader of the Arab and Muslim world.- SAUDI GAZETTE

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