By: Ashley Levi
The specter of a new age of progressivism in Saudi Arabian politics came into sharper focus when Mohamed Bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of King Salman, was appointed crown prince in June of 2017. He instituted many reforms in Saudi Arabia’s society and legal structure, including an expansion of women’s rights by allowing them to drive. He also put forth a new economic program called Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country’s economic dependence on the oil industry. Salman even worked to rebuild the national religious structure by restoring Islam to what he believes are its “original roots.”
Most notably, however, he announced an anti-corruption crusade. On November 4th, Salman and his regime arrested billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal along with other members of the ruling class. With these developments, Prince Bin Salman hopes to move beyond occurrences and practices that have been detrimental to the international perception of Saudi Arabia. This sudden political advancement within the regime has provoked concern as actors throughout the international community await the consequences of the power shift and redesigned economic plan. These shifts within the country’s administration and line of elites have galvanized not only domestic but international players to reflect on the forthcoming efficacy or detriment of these newly instituted changes.
In May of 2017, following President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia’s financial center and capital, Riyadh, the US invested $200 billion into firms working towards Prince Bin Salman’s economic plan of Vision 2030. Prince Talal’s arrest proved especially concerning for the international audience because of his many global business and market ties globally. Alwaleed has investments in Citigroup, Twitter, Lyft, and Time Warner, massive companies and household names in the U.S. Now that he is involved in a major political scandal and investigation, fears have arisen among those who feel that their companies and investments are tied to a volatile figure and political movement. As a result of this sudden political shift, so closely connected to individual and company finances, threats of divestment have loomed over the nation.
A month after the news of the corruption arrests, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times released an interview with Mohamed Bin Salman, also known as MBS, regarding the future of Saudi Arabia. In this interview, MBS defended his sudden decision to arrest multiple people on corruption charges, claiming that his actions were meant to further his vision of a new and reformed Saudi Arabia. Salman believes that, if successful, his corruption raid will result in over $10 billion in settlements. The money will then be given back to the state with to aid in the redirection of funds wrongly taken from the government towards new economic agenda. Moreover, the prince refutes the claims of many who feel his actions against these wealthy individuals are part of a quest for power. Throughout the interview, Friedman projects a hopeful view toward the Prince’s agenda, recognizing and applauding the efforts of MBS. Although Friedman provides an optimistic outlook for Saudi Arabia, others, particularly in the financial sector, fear the political and financial implications of a new regime. The lack of clarity in proceedings in light of the arrests raised a red flag for many investors who depend upon the security and stability of the Saudi Government as a safeguard for their money and investments.
In the financial world, turbulent conditions signal investors to withdraw their money, erasing positive external gains for Saudi Arabia as a result of reforms. MBS’s reforms no longer just affect the businesses that Prince Alwaleed has stakes in, but expand to the many investments recently made in Saudi Arabia by American companies. Only time will tell what is in store for Saudi Arabia and its economy.