The address by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, at the Future Initiative Forum in Riyadh, asserting that the economic resurgence of the Middle East, would soon transform it into a New Europe, is presently again being quite prominently splashed on some media. He also vowed that Saudi Arabia would be completely changed in the next five years culminating in the climax of his vision 2030 and cited the threefold rise already achieved in the non-petroleum revenues of the Kingdom. The prince similarly spoke of an extended spectrum of the Middle East and praised the phenomenal progress in Qatar which has evidently carved a new niche in the modern world, by hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup. He also referred to the rapid progress of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Lebanon leading to a new greater Middle East renaissance.
Saudi Arabia is now indeed the 18th largest economy in the world boasting a $23186 per capita gross domestic product that exceeds the average per capita income of 27 countries in the European Union, if its relatively less affluent members like Bulgaria, Greece and Croatia, are also included in the comparison. However, the $16.6 trillion gross domestic product of the EU comes to about a sixth of the total world economy while the whole of Europe with its $ 24 trillion economy makes up about a fourth of the entire world’s wealth. Saudi Arabia, however, has also been further investing about $152 billion as a part of its vision 2030, to stimulate its GDP still further. Its economy, presently envisaged to increase by 2.5%, is thus expected to soar even higher in the coming years. The Kingdom likewise has also been revamping its social system stimulating the participation of women in various sectors. Their prominence in various sectors including sports, tourism, and the diplomatic sectors to long route train driving, has also been gradually encouraged.
The push to end gender preferences is actually planned as a part of the transformation “from the religious to a global identity and culture” or moving with the more modern world like Europe and the USA. A recent special concession to Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s super football legend, hired at the mammoth $75million a year, further sums up the Saudi passion, not to rise and shine merely in global sports but also to relax some of its rigorous rules for the global celebrities. Ronaldo’s girlfriend, for instance, contrary to the current prohibitions for unmarried couples, has been allowed to live and move with him as generally happens in Europe. An even more remarkable development has been a recent decree (fatwa) by the Ulema Council against the takfir accusation to declare someone as kafir or a non-believer. Their pronouncement that none except Allah has the right or authority to judge the faith or belief of any person, seems to rock the entire precept and practice of regimented modes of Islam. This concept, long preached by the Sufi streams of faith, not merely incorporates the new Saudi policy against the terrorists and extremist tactics to impose their version of religion by force but also may be explicated to preclude the state to judge or prescribe any religious conduct or performance for its citizens. Viewed in the historical context, it may be compared to the most momentous European declaration that imposing or preventing a religion, is not the function of a state. Europe came to this realisation after three hundred years of the most devastating sectarian wars. These ravages also made the Fathers of the USA constitution, shield their soil against this bloodline of religious feuds and fights, by an explicit constitutional clause that the state shall neither create nor prevent any religion.
This surge in Saudi Arabia, can evidently also help it to improve its interaction with Iran, Yemen and other non-Sunni states and organisations, leading to a new era of peace and interaction in the Middle East. The Crown Prince has already praised Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai for setting new standards for Middle East societies. The UAE, with its over $503 billion GDP, is the fifth largest economy in the Middle East, known for its global impact, attraction for tourism, exhibitions and employment avenues in the region. The impact of modernisation and global reach of Dubai also seems to have inspired the KSA to create one of the most splendid, smart, ambitious futuristic Neom projects in the world. This $500 billion layout located the North of the Red Sea, means a New Future. Designed to present a new sustainable style, free from cars or carbon emissions, is to spawn a new symbiosis between humans and their environments, especially the water resources. Even beyond the Middle East and the western world, KSA has been further diversifying and improving its relations with the superpowers like Russia and China. Some countries like the UAE and Jordan have even established relations with Israel. Yet the most crucial question about moulding the Middle East into modern Europe is, if it would be more of enhanced collaboration among some of its more affluent states or if it would also end the powerplay of the ethnic and sectarian passions and intrigues, in its weaker and volatile regions, making it a well-knit haven for peace, progress and welfare, replicating the miracle of the European Union of 27 states, to bury their wars and vendettas of the centuries.