Saudi crown prince’s reputation taints plan to open Saudi economy

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Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, has worked to refocus attention on Vision 2030.

On Tahlia Street, a busy shopping boulevard in central Riyadh, a rotating digital billboard displays advertisements for oud perfumes, white underpants and a glittering diamond watch. Next comes an image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seated at a desk, with one of his latest sound clips: “Saudi Arabia plans to spend more in the next 10 years than in the last 300 years.”

The poster was mounted hours after the prince unveiled new measures to support the economy on March 30. It was the latest in a series of initiatives since the start of the year that reminded the Saudis who is in charge of the kingdom. The subliminal message is that all of the mistakes of the past five years are firmly behind the 35-year-old prince.

Yet internationally, the Saudi heir has two spots on his record that he can’t seem to get rid of: the war in Yemen and the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post critic and columnist Jamal Khashoggi by agents. Saudi Arabians at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. . With a less pro-Saudi White House, they threaten to undermine Prince Mohammed’s plan for economic transformation, which relies at least in part on Western money.

According to government figures released on March 31, foreign investment in Saudi Arabia hit a new high in the last quarter of 2020. Yet Egypt and India top the list of top 10 countries there. awarded projects, followed by the US and UK. only western countries on the list.

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At an online event hosted by the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council on March 10, Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, urged attendees to visit his country and invest in helping the kingdom to “advance this exciting stage in our development.” “One participant raised a red flag.” The things you are talking about are exciting, “he said.” But it is difficult to overtake Jamal Khashoggi. “

President Joe Biden has made it clear that US relations with the kingdom will not be as smooth as under former President Donald Trump, stressing the need to contact King Salman rather than his son. Biden allowed the declassification of a US intelligence report that implicated Prince Mohammed in the murder of Khashoggi; the Saudi government dismissed the finding as a “false and unacceptable assessment”.

King Salman, however, was notable for the low profile he has kept recently. Although the monarch still chairs the weekly cabinet meeting and sends public messages to world leaders, his son is now the face of the country.

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Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Indeed, Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, has strived to refocus attention on Vision 2030, his transformation plan for the nation’s future. His recent efforts range from reforming the justice system to calling on heads of state to discuss the environment. He is also keen to play the role of statesman in a region that is not becoming less unstable. Like his father, he called on Jordan’s King Abdullah II to express his solidarity after the country announced on April 3 the discovery of a plot to destabilize the nation.

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In Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has waged a war that sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the kingdom is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to provide food and health services, build schools and help farmers, which makes it the biggest donor of its neighbor. He also put on the table a peace plan last month that Iran-backed Houthi rebels have yet to agree to. Such efforts have not obscured Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflict. On her sixth birthday in March, a coalition of human rights groups launched an awareness campaign highlighting what they called Prince Mohammed’s “assault” on Yemen and rejecting the Saudi financial aid as a laundering tactic.

Some observers believe the prince wasted the goodwill of the West, which welcomed his changes in a society long ruled by an austere strain of Sunni Islam and his plans to rebuild a long-dependent economy. petrol. “MBS would have been the darling of the West if it weren’t for Yemen and Khashoggi,” said Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa manager at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “Europe and the United States were charmed by his vision for the reforms. This damage is in some ways irreparable.”

This could have an impact on attracting Western investment to a country where obstacles to doing business include an unpredictable court system (which the government is trying to change) and frequent delays in government payments. “Investors will only come if there are significant returns, especially given the public relations issues,” Kamel says. Prince Mohammed has said he expects 90% of funding for Vision 2030 over the next 10 years to come from domestic sources.

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The prince’s reform efforts, along with measures to improve the country’s human rights image, such as the release of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, appear to be attempts to appease the Biden administration. . A Saudi official said the kingdom’s actions are not linked to changes in political leadership elsewhere in the world, but rather are in line with the goals of Vision 2030. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that US-Saudi relations are historic and multidimensional and have continued to deepen.

For Gregory Gause, professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, Prince Mohammed remains “on probation”, at least in the United States. Biden’s policies appear to give the Saudi leader some leeway to reestablish his position in Washington by seeking peace in Yemen and respecting the American line in the region. In the meantime, says Gause, “I don’t think he’s been completely rehabilitated in the American context, or that Yemen and Jamal are behind him.”

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)

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