Felt across the Mediterranean on August 4th, 2020, some 2,750 tones of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut exploded, killing at least 190 people and injuring at least 6,500, resulting in an estimated $10–15 billion USD in property damage, and leaving an approximately 300,000 people homeless. The ammonium nitrate gas had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures in place for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the cargo ship MV Rhosus that had docked in Beirut and been declared unseaworthy. The official cause of the detonation is under investigation. Yet the ruling elites’ failure to address the presence of the material in the port and the subsequent explosion perhaps signifies the apex of political corruption and public negligence.
In addition to daily disruptions in terms of social service provision, public inefficiency and corruption, the global financial crisis and the rise in influence of Hezbollah, investment, aid, and remittances has starkly declined. This has been coupled with enhanced sanctions against Hezbollah from neighboring Gulf states and the United States, making future investment in Lebanon unattractive at best. Months prior to the protests, Lebanon itself was also inching towards an economic collapse. The economy grew a meager 0.2% in 2018, possessing the third highest public debt burden in the world. Its credit rating was downgraded earlier this year, and unemployment had reached 20% according to the IMF, which also noted the systemic corruption in Lebanon and the government’s inability to implement reforms. By late September, the circulation of US dollars plummeted, with people unable to withdraw USD from Lebanese ATMs, seriously impacting companies importing gas, wheat and medicine, “all of which needed to pay in dollars but sold their goods for Lebanese pounds.”
Buckling under these pressures, on October 17th of 2019, Lebanon erupted into a series of demonstrations, increasingly known as the October revolution, amassing somewhere between 1-1.5 million protestors in the streets and mobilizing Lebanese expats in 35 countries around the world in 90 cities.These protests are believed to have been triggered by the state’s failure to adequately put a stop to the worst wildfires in decades, which burned large swathes of the countryside on October 15th, as well as a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, and the impending economic crisis. The movement mobilized Lebanese citizens of all sectarian backgrounds, ages and classes across the country, beyond typical locations of social contestation (primarily Beirut), demanding the removal of the political elite, an end to rampant corruption and, for the first time an overhaul of the entire political system.
In a structure of governance characterized by traditional alliances of patronage and clientelism, bolstered by sectarianism, corrupt practices have thrived. Existing literature largely attributes this dynamic to the sectarian power-sharing system governing Lebanon since its independence. Yet, corruption appears to have reached levels in the post-civil war era that is unmatched, at least in the perceived experience of Lebanese. The revolutionary movement exhibited narratives surrounding corruption that highlighted its linkages to other forces in the system, offering alternative explanations. The events of October 17th provide an opportune moment to interrogate the mechanisms that have allowed corruption to reach the intolerable levels one observes in Lebanon today. In studying the response of Lebanese citizens to the current uprisings, we can begin to understand why Lebanese citizens now refuse to tolerate it in its the current state.
Structural inequalities and the spark
After years and years of swelling corrupt political practices, economic exploitation and the marriage of these two forces, signs of a potential dollar liquidity crisis began to materialize in September of 2019. The looting of state funds created conflict, not between rich and poor but rather generated a reaction against the perceived predatory behavior of the political and economic elite in rent-seeking. In addition to the very real concerns for survival and ensuring their livelihoods, the driver for many Lebanese was a call to restore their dignity. The theft and ensuing deprivation had reached unprecedented levels. The crony neo-liberal and the confusion of public and private sectors facilitated corruption and sectarianism, which was also reproduced by these mechanisms. Echoed in many of the discussions and interviews I conducted while carrying out research Lebanon in December and January of 2020, the lack of access to basic services and the consistent interruption of quotidian life compounded by long-term, structural social inequality pushed some to drop political clientelism and go down in the streets. Therefore, this movement triggered a struggle to reclaim basic fundamental rights surrounding daily needs and by extension—dignity. Anger over the hi-jacking of this dignity manifested itself in the discourse surrounding the ever-increasing brain drain, personal status laws, citizenship laws, youth unemployment, increasing emigration and declining remittances. Consequently, a popular campaign expressed throughout the movement was جنسيتي كرامتي or “My nationality, my dignity.”
The spark for the popular reaction can be found in the uncontrolled forest fires and the WhatsApp tax proposed in the days leading up to October 17th. The Lebanese are no strangers to taxes with this scale of impact. However, the proposed tax on WhatsApp calls reverberated throughout the country for both its symbolic significance but also the timing of its discussion.
Following these fires (which the state was unable to address due to its failure to carry out maintenance of the required emergency helicopters), and as the WhatsApp tax was announced and discussions ensued, a post on social media circulated that perhaps best embodies the larger meaning imbued in the reaction to the tax. In the post, an individual speaks of his experience as a young Lebanese living abroad in the diaspora. He recounts how his mode of communication with his family and friends in Lebanon is primarily through WhatsApp, common for the vast majority of Lebanese. He speaks of a bitterness for being unable to participate in this turning point that is the result of “decades of culminated degradation.” Family and friend WhatsApp group chats are often the most effective window into both daily life back home, but also understanding current events on the ground as many do not trust traditional media outlets. Photos and videos of solidarity protests across the diaspora are all sent back through these chats in support. The individual who authored the text describes families scattered across the world, as well as a friend, a recent graduate working in Dubai out of necessity rather than choice. He goes on to add that the nation is “fragmented due to the sectarian divides maintained by politicians who have more interest in money laundering and less in public affairs.” He asserts that this political fragmentation transcends to the familial and social level, citing the lack of sufficient telecommunication infrastructure (i.e. results of political disputes) preventing Lebanese from calling their loved ones abroad as a prime example. Significant life events, achievements and memories have been reduced to digital communication, and yet even this option was threatened on October 17th. Therefore, he concludes that this is not about “protesting a WhatsApp tax; (they) are protesting all the factors that have resorted (their) feeling of belonging to the realm of virtual reality.”
The ties that bind
This testimony situates this moment of social contestation in a context of meaning beyond the tax itself. As argued by Erica Simmons, threats to norms and values in a society leave room for the possibility to mobilize across typical points of division. Therefore, the implications of the WhatsApp tax relate to their larger meaning as a threat to an imagined community and the failure to protect this community. In addition to the added cost the tax would impose, it signifies the greed of the political class. First, this tax and its invasive nature into Lebanese daily life reminded citizens of financial decadence of the political class and their inability and incompetence to find alternative methods of extracting state revenue that would not punish or burden the working class. Rather than investigating theft, corruption or inflated public salaries, the elites turned immediately to further dispossess their own people. It also illustrates the way in which the political class continues to overstep and exploit without facing significant consequences. Secondly, this proposed tax symbolized both total control over the destiny of the citizen and the complete indifference on the part of the political elite to the plight of their constituents. The most basic right to communicate with one’s community, family and the larger world was instantly threatened and devalued. Even on the precipice of economic collapse, with thousands forced to leave the country in search of a better life, the audacity of the powers responsible for this crisis attempted to sever one of the only tools remaining that connects individuals to their home. Therefore, the tax highlighted more broadly the violation of fundamental principles that are consistently denied to the Lebanese citizen, which infringes upon their dignity and welfare that is carried out with callousness and disregard.
The mobilization was by no means consistent across different social stratifications in Lebanon. As the weeks went on, it became evident that two types of individuals either possessed the privilege or the imperative to revolt. The former is able to protest due to privileges such as not having children, their age, or possessing a foreign passport. The latter is so poor that they no longer have anything to lose. As a result, the majority of those I observed participating as the movement progressed were youth (typically unemployed), students, activists and individuals from the poor, working classes. Those residing between these two segments may or may not have expressed sympathies towards the revolution. However, either due to their own savings or family that face the risk of a chaotic transition or threat to their position in society, the consequences of upheaval did not seem worth upsetting the secure, status quo. However, the two segments visible in the street possessed similar grievances and demands, both frequently speaking of theft and stolen money. They also highlighted the need for the removal of the ruling political elite, the need to fight corruption and push for an independent judiciary and technocratic government, calling for the fall of the sectarian regime. Whether compelled by poverty or the dearth of viable futures for graduates and the youth, both linked these grievances to what one artist and activist would label as the political elite maintaining a façade masking what is really “neo-liberal sectarianism” driven by greed and corruption. It seemed that those who refused to support the movement or were unable to participate were partially motivated by fears surrounding escalation and violence, due to very recent memories of civil war traumas. However, the generations born after this era and those with nothing to gain from the status quo proved to be liberated of this apprehension. In this case, the significance of the infringement on virtual communication is two-fold: for the working poor, this serves as the final blow after decades of mismanagement, underdevelopment and neglect. For youth, this tax reminds them that if they are forced to leave, their bonds will be tested, and the political class is failing to entice them to ever return.
The movement and reactions to this social mobilization also revealed resilient generational divides. Older generations with more recent memories of conflict were quick to take stock in conspiracy theories, mistrust of the movement and a victimization narrative regarding foreign interference. In one interview, a participant highlighted how older Lebanese often trace roots of corrupt practices to the deeply rooted Ottoman and French style kinship-based structures in the Levant, which ultimately serves as another form of exoneration of current leadership. During the clashes between security forces and protestors in downtown Beirut in the “week of rage,” I had a conversation with a woman from Jounieh, who upon observing the protestors fighting more forcefully with the security forces and damaging property, lamented what she saw as the demise of the revolution. Disturbed by the violence she was witnessing, she quickly placed blame on “Muslim Brotherhood” extremists coming from Tripoli to infiltrate the protests. This claim evolved into a critique of the Sunni leadership more broadly, specifically Hariri and the Future movement. These examples in which people divert responsibility to other religious communities or political dynasties other than their own or consistently across the entire political class illustrate an infantilization of the generations affected by the height of sectarian politics—violent conflict along religious lines. I argue this infantilization is carefully crafted by the ruling elite as a means of maintaining their hold on their respective constituents. However, through a new, common struggle, younger people in particular began to shed this mentality, instead adopting an outlook of increased autonomy to seize and claim their rights. Efforts to shed this mentality appear to signify foundations for new-found trust between citizens, but also in the institutions laid to waste during the civil conflict. Calls to end foreign interference from all external powers categorically is a departure from the rhetoric of previous generations. Additionally, though not universal, there was an emergence of a budding political consciousness.
The clientelist bargain
The mobilization, particularly of the two segments most active indicate an alteration of the sort of bargain Lebanese citizens are bound by in the consociational, post-Taif system. In this bargain, the citizen is forced to pledge allegiance to the Zaimor respective political leader representing their community or sect. This leader promises protection to his community in what he portrays as a treacherous political arena, in which their position will be precarious without his leadership. In return for loyalty and submission, citizens will have access to social services and connections depending on their level of demonstrated allegiance. This relationship calls on the citizen to overlook or disregard corruption and impunity in their own political community due to the lack of any viable alternative in the political and social system where these connections are essential for survival. Additionally, some citizens have internalized a narrative of infantilization and genuine fear of the chaos that would ensue if they deviate from their Zaim. This bargain in recent years proved to no longer benefit most citizens, leading many to social mobilization, triggered by the WhatsApp tax. Daily life had become so unbearable in terms of basic needs not being met but also the repeated violation of peoples’ dignity visible in social injustice. Therefore, the payoff no longer outweighed the corruption inherent to this relationship. Such a reaction to the sparks (WhatsApp tax, the fires) perhaps underscores a struggle for dignity and pride in citizenship, that is universal, as such factors do not possess sectarian dimensions, but threaten the lives of all.
The Shia population in Lebanon has historically been the most disadvantaged, despised and deprived. After decades of political activism by Musa Sadr and the Amal movement and in recent years through Hezbollah, this community can obtain services and social support through these entities. This provision comes at the price of authoritarian and mafia like behavior in asserting control in these areas and demands for unwavering loyalty, at times through coercion. In Tripoli however, the historically privileged Sunni populations during the Ottoman era have not been afforded the same sort of bargain. With over half the population living below the poverty line and infrastructure crumbling, the city exemplifies state neglect and indifference, despite possessing some of the wealthiest political representatives in the country. This city also became infamous for political violence and recruitment into extremist organizations, due in part to the impact of the Syrian conflict. Naturally, the call to rise on October 17th reverberated strongest with citizens of Tripoli.
The bargain is broken
Consequently, social grievances and the absence of strong institutions or an independent judiciary were highlighted frequently throughout the demands of the protest movement in and beyond Tripoli. With the economy on the verge of collapse, no one individual outside the core political elite can run or hide from the disruption of basic routines by unbridled corruption. One interviewee went so far to say that this sort of bargain between the Zaim and the citizen illustrates an abusive relationship with the state. The polity endures the abuse because it is convinced of the need for its partner to protect them. The state or political elite act as this protector, all the while extracting and exploiting more and more. At a certain point, this dynamic becomes so unbalanced that the abused—the people—snap in defiance demanding their dignity and humanity. In the discourse regarding the movement, corruption was discussed and perceived as part and parcel of the economic system and vice versa. As a result, a common reverberation of anger over these forces led to the empowerment of the individual, but also mass mobilization. The individualization of political agency and the mobilization of society marks a rearrangement of trust in individual leaders or political parties to trust in a more widespread and diffused social community, but also in stronger institutions in the future. Though increasingly compelling for only certain segments and classes in society, for those galvanized to enter into the streets, the fear of consequences associated with such calls had virtually disappeared. Renouncing the tax and state policies in recent months and years, consequently, symbolizes the delegitimization of the system and the status quo that is unable or refuses to ensure basic rights to its citizens.
 Sullivan, Helen, et al. “The Making of Lebanon’s October Revolution.” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-making-of-lebanons-october-revolution.
 “The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019.” The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019, www.lebaneserevolution2019.com/.
 Deutsche Welle. “Lebanon Faces Race against Time to Avoid Financial Collapse: DW: 01.10.2019.” DW.COM, www.dw.com/en/lebanon-faces-race-against-time-to-avoid-financial-collapse/a-50655866.
 Civil marriage is not recognized in Lebanon, and family courts are left to the respective religious sect of the community in question. These courts often put women at a disadvantaged in regards to marriage, divorce, the custody of children, and inheritance. “Lebanon: Laws Discriminate Against Women.” Human Rights Watch, 2 Jan. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/19/lebanon-laws-discriminate-against-women.
 As the law stands, Lebanese woman are unable to pass their citizenship on to their children. “Lebanon: Discriminatory Nationality Law.” Human Rights Watch, 14 Nov. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/03/lebanon-discriminatory-nationality-law.
 Jounieh is a coastal town 16 km from Beirut. The greater area is overwhelmingly Maronite Catholic, the home of the Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church and Harissa, a shrine of Mary and pilgrimage site called Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon.
Turkish Strengthened Parliamentary System
“Corrected” or “enhanced” system of parliamentary debate, thoroughly sat on Turkey’s agenda in recent days. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unclear what, all from a single source power is collected, brought Turkey no balance-point of the current regime where there is no monitoring mechanism. Of democracy, of freedom, which abolished the rule of law, both inside and outside the war which, as all institutions of workers pouring connected to a single person, the economy of bottoming out, which is a record level of unemployment, inequality of well increase as a Turkey. Undoubtedly, the first step to get out of this darkness and tidy up the wreckage is to get rid of the one-man regime called the “Presidential Government System”. The question then arises of what kind of management system to replace. The second reason is the increasing signs that the MHP-backed AKP government is about to end. A transition period will begin after the end of AKP rule. But where is the transition? This question should be discussed and an answer should be sought.
The parliamentary system has led to the domination of the majority over the minority in Turkey. Since there are no mechanisms to prevent the executive from dominating the legislature, the power is meeting in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the ruling majority party. The end of the independence of the judiciary, the silencing of the press, the pressure on the opposition, the arbitrary administration all took place in the parliamentary system.
Such a new democracy changes the focus of politics. The subject of politics, political parties cease to be party heads, but become the people themselves. However, in order to create a grassroots popular movement, people need to unite within the framework of a project and not be a “mass”, but turn into a “people” that decide their future. Such “people” make decisions about their own problems and demand that governments implement these decisions. Such a people does not leave their future to the rulers, they take control of their future. Such a people becomes the engine of change in society, creates a libertarian, egalitarian, new society.
One of the most important features of participatory democracy is that it is based on equality. Equality in income distribution as well as in participation can be achieved in this way. We have seen the concrete application of this in the example of Porto Allegre in Brazil.
There are many different models of participatory democracy. These models cover a wide spectrum, from the budgeting powers of local units to different decision-making platforms. It is necessary to discuss these and, according to the results, the construction of local democratic institutions.
However, no matter what model is adopted, participatory democracy has some unchangeable basic principles:
Participation is open to all who live in that place.
Participatory democracy institutions are independent from the state. The aim of the system is to realize a power sharing between representative democracy institutions and local democracy institutions. Representative democracy institutions will lose their power as they will transfer some of their powers to local institutions.
But considering that representative democracy is not working well anyway, this weakening is not a loss for democracy.
Informing the public correctly. For this, there is a need for effective use of social media as well as the prevalence of freedom of expression and press in the country.
Participatory democracy leads to deepening democracy and creating a culture of participation. However, the main problem here is that the people adopt this culture with an active citizenship awareness. Successful pilot project implementations are required for this.
Let’s not forget that my imagination of the future determines what we will do now.
The Battle for Jerusalem: Turkey’s Erdogan stakes his claim
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t mince his words at this month’s opening of parliament. In his first assertion of a claim to a lost non-Turkic part of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Erdogan declared that Jerusalem is Turkish.
“In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Mr. Erdogan said.
He went on to say that “the current appearance of the Old City, which is the heart of Jerusalem, was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, with its walls, bazaar, and many buildings. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem.”
Mr. Erdogan was referring to the 16th century Ottoman sultan, a sponsor of monumental architectural development, who is widely viewed as having protected his Jewish subjects.
In July, Mr. Erdogan described that month’s return of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a sixth century Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, to the status of a Muslim house of worship as paving the way for the “liberation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
Mr. Erdogan’s office released a month later a four-minute video clip suggesting that Turkey’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world was as much a military and nationalist endeavor as it was a religious drive. Laced with martial music, the clip meshed religious and Ottoman symbolism. Entitled Golden Apple, the clip ended with a panorama view of Al-Aqsa.
The president, who embeds his often raw nationalism in a religious mantle, can have no illusion that Jerusalem would return to Turkish rule.
Yet, by putting forward his claim, Mr. Erdogan hopes to put his quest for leadership of the Muslim world on par with that of one Turkey’s staunchest rivals, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina.
Rather than seeking to regain lost Ottoman territory, Mr. Erdogan is staking a claim to custodianship of Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque compound that currently rests with a Jordanian-controlled religious endowment known as the Waqf.
The president escalated his rhetoric at a moment that the Palestine Authority has reached out to Turkey as well as Qatar in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and a series of statements by prominent Saudi and other Gulf leaders taking President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration to task for squandering opportunities for peace with the Jewish state.
Mr. Erdogan’s claim adds to Jordan’s worries that Israel, in the wake of the formalization of its ties to Gulf states, could support Saudi ambitions to join the Hashemite kingdom, if not replace it, as the holy site’s administrator.
Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper that is supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat as saying that Saudi funds were needed to counter Turkish influence in Jerusalem.
“If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly ‘on paper,’” the diplomat was quoted as saying in June.
Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, said in 2018, in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi role in the Waqf.
Mr. Daana attributed the secrecy in part to a refusal to accept the invitation by a number of Palestinian religious figures.
Jordan last year increased the number of members of the Waqf from 11 to 18 in a bid to give it a more a more Muslim rather than exclusively Jordanian flavour and to fend off attempts by regional powers to muscle their way into the body.
The new members included officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority as well as figures with links to Turkey and Gulf states like Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Holocaust denier who has defended Mr. Erdogan’s militancy regarding Jerusalem; and Mr. Sabri’s successor, Muhammad Hussein, who had close ties to the United Arab Emirates until he last month barred Emiratis from visiting Al Aqsa in protest against the UAE’s recognition of Israel.
Mr. Erdogan has in recent years been laying the groundwork for his claim with millions of dollars in donations to local Islamic organizations as well as Turkish religious activists and pilgrims in Jerusalem whom Israel has accused of instigating Palestinian protests.
Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, lists Al-Aqsa as a site for the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage.
Israeli sources say Turkey’s cultural center in Jerusalem as well as a Turkish renovated coffeeshop two minutes from the city’s Western Wall that is adorned with Turkish and Palestinians flags as well as portraits of Mr. Erdogan and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II serve as a meeting point for activists and pilgrims.
“Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities…aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem,” said conservative Israeli journalist and analyst Nadav Shragai.
Kingdom’s journey from ultra-conservatism to ultra-modernism
Saudi Arabia, currently, is undergoing a phenomenal metamorphosis; a country widely known for its ultra-conservative posture is now gradually moving towards liberalism. It is witnessing a remarkable transformation in its socio-economic-cultural contours. The kingdom, once influenced and controlled by orthodox clergy, did not let women come out of their domestic confines but, now, the situation has diametrically changed. It has allowed the womenfolk incredible latitude to not only come out of home but also to travel abroad independently. They are, thus, supposed to contribute to country’s socio-economic development by working shoulder to shoulder with men. Economy, too, is being diversified; the kingdom is jettisoning its chronic dependence on oil revenues and is moving towards rapid Industrialization. Acculturation, once regarded as taboo by Saudi society is now, being appreciated bit by bit.
The man, who masterminded this movement of colossal change, is none other than Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS); He is the real catalyst that is working devotedly and diligently to improve his country’s image nationally and internationally. His ideology is described as nationalist and populist, with conservative attitude towards politics and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.
However, His style of governance came under severe stricture by journalistic community. He has been dubbed as “extremely brutal” by journalist Rula Jabrael and “authoritarian” by Late Jamal khashoggi. On contrary, his move to reform the country has been widely lauded and supported by Saudi populace.
Prince Mohammad is of opinion that his country has been severely harmed by traditional clergy that considered any reformative move as a sin and hence, has kept the country stagnant economically and socially. He emphatically stated at one occasion: “we are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” He later added that Saudi Arabia “will remain committed to the principles “of Islam, “the religion of tolerance and moderation”. The kingdom “will keep on fighting against extremism and terrorism”—a message directly meant to counter the outrageous edicts released by leading clerics against anything they perceived a threat to Saudi society.
The crown Prince took the clergy as a great hurdle in the way of kingdom’s socio-economic development. He, therefore, trimmed its wings of power by stripping it of its policing powers. Instead, the government took the reins into its hands to guide the society. Now, with the passive and emaciated clergy, Prince is aggressively pursuing his agenda of reforms.
“Vision 2030” is the bedrock of Prince Mohammad’s scheme of socio-economic change. Under this vision, he is going to transform country’s economic physiognomy. Vision 2030 aims at steering Saudi’s economy towards more diversified and privatized structure. It expounds goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenue and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.
To this end, Bin Salman, in October 2017, at the inaugural conference of Future investment initiative in Riyadh, announced the plan for the creation of NEOM, a $ 500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26000 sq km on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea cost, extending into Japan and Egypt. NEOM aims at attracting investment in sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.
A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was also announced by Prince Mohammad in November 2018. The kingdom aspires to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years. Efforts to diversify Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar energy.
Apart from this, a much awaited high-speed railway line connecting two holiest cities of Islam Mecca and Medina was inaugurated by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in last week of September 2018. The Harmain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually.
In addition, before the outbreak of corona virus, in order to boost tourism industry, the kingdom started issuing e-visas to tourists. It opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists.
Moreover, in 2016, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) shared the idea for “Green cards” for non-Saudi foreigners with Al-Arabia Journalist Turki Al-Dakhil. In 2019, Saudi cabinet approved a new residency scheme “Premium Residency” for foreigners. The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the kingdom.
Prince MBS is staunch proponent of women emancipation. He contends that dream of progress and sustainable development cannot be realized unless women become part and parcel of workforce. He, therefore, has brought about many reforms pertaining to the status of women in Saudi society.
For this very purpose, he allowed women to drive in the kingdom. Driving licenses are, therefore, being issued to women at a very fast pace; the number of women drivers on the road, according to Saudi officials, is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020. Further, Saudi women may now attend soccer matches and sporting events. Gyms and fitness centers for women are being established. They can also join the military and intelligence services. They are allowed to open their own business without male’s permission and to travel abroad independently without male guardian. In this very spirit, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head Saudi stock exchange.
On entertainment side, Saudi government has established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling, live music concerts and monster truck rallies.
In April 2017, Prince MBS announced a project to build one of worlds largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in AL-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plan includes a safari and a six flags theme park.
Additionally, cultural transformation of the kingdom is also underway. It held its first public concert by female singer in December 2017. And in January 2018, a sport stadium in Jeddah became the first in the kingdom to admit women. In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2000 screens running by 2030.
This all became possible, when clerical hold over the kingdom was eviscerated. The orthodox clergy with its antiquated and rigid doctrines was the biggest obstacle in the way of progress and development of the kingdom. Addressing this issue, Prince MBS said that he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start “Returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” He told the country’s clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be re-negotiated.
The crown prince believes that industrialization and wahhabism are mutually exclusive. The wahhabies are committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These are consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.
Inter alia, Ayaan Haris Ali, a celebrated author and human rights activist claimed that if MBS “succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the UAE, its prosperous and relatively forward looking neighbor”.
In the end, I would like to quote Prince Mohammad bin Salman who while addressing to packed audience at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh said that Middle East can be the “New Europe” and that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his life time. He said: “his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe that the new Europe is the Middle East”. “Saudi Arabia in five years, he added,” will be completely different”.
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