On the edge of the turquoise sea, on the golden sand, beautiful girls sunbathe in almost invisible bikinis, and their handsome men bring them frozen champagne from beach bars.
In the evening they will go to luxurious discos and clubs, where they will drink, dance and enjoy the holidays. It’s not Ibiza, it’s Saudi Arabia. Well, maybe not quite today’s Arabia, but the one to be in four years. Well, maybe not all of it supposed to be like this, but a large part of it – over a hundred-kilometer strip of pristine beaches and 50 islets in five years are to become a zone of luxury rest for foreign tourists, managed by a “private committee” and ruled by “independent regulations and rules established by that committee”. That is – nudity, mixing of women and men and alcohol will be allowed. Ordinary female and male Saudis will probably not be allowed in, but over 30,000 people will find employment there – apparently Saudis.
Meanwhile on Sunday November 5, an even more amazing news was made public: the day before, the first anti-corruption agency in the history of Saudi Arabia detained eleven princes, two current ministers, dozens of former ministers, and a few businessmen too and all this after just one day of functioning. Among the detainees are the richest Saudi businessman, shareholder of Citibank and Twitter, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the former Minister of Economy and the previous commander of the Palace Guard.
The new agency was headed by the heir to the throne, Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He joined this position to many others, including the defense minister and the person responsible for the design of the luxury leisure zone described above.
Islam, Islam, Islam everywhere
This zone is just a part of a much more ambitious project called Vision2030, which was presented a year ago by Prince Salman. A project that is an idea for a grand plan for the modernization of Saudi Arabia. The Prince was unexpectedly appointed as the heir to the throne by his reigning father last year and hopes to reign somewhere until 2070. He knows that Saudi Arabia has three options: either will modernize itself, go bankrupt, or will go through the revolution in which his dynasty will lose power.
But what will happen in Saudi Arabia is nteresting not merely in terms of possible all-inclusive cheap holidays – especially given that the price will reach over 1000 euro per day. It is also not about the potential economic benefits too our country. Saudi Arabia is not a trading partner of Poland, and occasional purchases of Saudi oil by Orlen are irrelevant. Generally speaking, as a trading partner this country is practically irrelevant for the European Union. Maybe with one exception – it is a great buyer of weapons. Saudis plan to spend 350 billion dollars in weapons over the next ten years because of their hostilities with Iran.
But Saudi Arabia, apart from being the world’s largest exporter of oil, has another export product in which it is the world champion: fundamentalist Islam, known as Wahhabism. And what will happen to the export of this commodity is very important for the world and for us.
Arabia has neither a parliament nor independent media, so its public budget is not fully credible. However, it is known that this religious monarchy seems to spend even up to a dozen or so billion USD for promotion of this most conservative, retrograde, primitive sect of Islam, which is its state religion.
Islamic fundamentalism for export
Sharia law which is the traditional Islamic law, subordination and enslavement of women, lack of civil liberties, absolute rule of Islam as the only religion, combating political and religious dissidents, hostility to the ideology of liberal democracy – Wahhabism is a religious dictatorship proclaiming the superiority of Islam as a religious, social and political system. It is a total denial of a based on a personal freedom democratic system in the West. This fundamentalist Islam Arabia exports to the Islamic countries of Asia and to the democratic countries of Europe.
Their goal is to unify Islam in the world so that the Wahhabi version dominates everywhere. The methods are the very varied. Arabia is funding scholarships for people who want to study Islam in this country, including future imams who will teach it in their home countries after coming back – for Saudi money. It funds the construction of Mosques abroad and pays to Muslim organizations that organize Islamic teachings, including Quranic schools, at Mosques. It finances various Islamic organizations which try to convert non-Muslims and turn stray sheep in Muslim enclaves in the West.
As a result this fundamentalist approach to Islam keeps replacing its traditional, more tolerant forms – for example in Malaysia and Indonesia. The emergence of radical movements and groups that aim to bring Sharia law duly follows.
“If truly the future king will change Wahhabism to a less radical version of Islam, more tolerant and less hostile to the West – that would be the most important result of his program.”
From our point of view, however, the most important is the Wahhabist support for consecutive terrorist groups – because in its ideology, Wahhabism is practically no different from what Al Qaeda or Islamic State demand. Yes, these are groups that put on armed struggle and terrorism, not bribing and brainwashing, but their goals are identical: Islamic societies ruled by sharia and Western societies treating the Muslim minorities in a privileged way, allowing them to rule themselves by sharia rather than democratic values. Without the billions of dollars flowing each year from Saudi Arabia, the entire world wave of Islamism would be much weaker, the radicalization of Muslim minorities in Europe much slower or non-existent, and the integration of these minorities much easier.
Shock of reality
From the so-called the first oil shock in 1973, when oil prices increased fourfold, Saudi Arabia became rich enough to afford spending a fortune on promotion of radical Islam in the world. The river of money flowing from the royal treasury has allowed to keep the society in obedience in exchange for providing a high standard of living.
This river of money has dried up dramatically when in 2014 the price of a barrel of oil fell from over $120 to below $30; today it is just over $ 50. Because 90% of the Saudi budget income comes from oil exports, the blow was painful and forced the government to reduce spending on infrastructure projects, cut subsidies to water, electricity and gasoline (one liter of petrol now costs even as much as 0,2 EUR!) and a sudden reduction of bonuses and additions for state employees.
Because the state employs 3.2 million people there (private sector only 1.5 million, plus 10 million foreigners), the reduction of their wages by 40% helped to reduce the deficit, but rapidly slowed down the economy. What’s worse, it caused a social dissatisfaction, which the authorities are very afraid of, because it generates supporters of radicals like Al Qaeda who want to overthrow the Saudi dynasty and introduce even “better” Islam. After six months, not only the bonuses were restored, but also the outstanding ones were paid out.
If the future king would truly change Wahhabism to a less radical version of Islam, a more tolerant and less hostile to the West, that would be the most important result of his program.
The fall in revenues, however, forced the government to reach for the foreign exchange reserves. The reserves were gigantic, more than 730 billion dollars, but they have already dropped by 150 billion and, as the International Monetary Fund warns, at the current rate of their consumption bankruptcy is threatening Arabia in five years. The bankruptcy of a country with the world’s second largest oil reserve and its largest exporter? This seems impossible, but apparently even in Saudi Arabia there are people who take these warnings seriously. People like Prince Salman.
Brand New Saudi Arabia
Looking even in the nearest future, the problem of Saudi Arabia lies in the fact that it is a state totally dependent on the sale of crude oil, a raw material that will be cheaper and cheaper, and the demand for it will decrease. On the one hand, there is more and more oil on the world market, mainly due to shale mining in the US, and on the other hand – alternative energy sources are developing rapidly and future cars will be either hybrid or electric. Several countries – the United Kingdom, France, China – have already introduced bans for registering new cars with internal combustion engines after 2030 or 2040. The oil revenues of Saudi Arabia will therefore be falling, and its population will increase by over 20% in 10 years.
Prince Salman wants therefore the economic and social modernization of the country, to make state revenues independent of oil while ensuring high development, to at least maintain the current standard of living of the population. Vision 2030 formulates very ambitious goals. Saudi Arabia is to shift from the 20th to the 15th place of the largest economies in the world, the share in exports of non-oil products is expected to increase from 16% to 50%, private sector participation in the economy is to be not 40% but 65%, and budget revenues from non-oil is expected to rise from USD 40 billion to USD 250 billion (that is, almost the entire budget would come not from oil).
In addition, the Saudi industry is to produce half the value of its weapons. And when it comes to women, their share in the labor force is to increase from 22% to 30%. And unemployment is to be liquidated, which is an ambitious task, to put it mildly: in 10 years 4.5 million young Saudis will have arrived in the labour market, more than there is currently employed.
Well, one more thing: the world’s largest state investment fund is to be created, with resources of two trillion dollars (yes!). Its future income is to provide wealth to Saudis even when the world will stop buying their oil.
The Saudi enclave good for everything?
Creating a new economy requires enormous investments. Hence, the idea for a tourist zone, which is to start functioning in five years and bring several billion dollars every year to the budget. Then another idea, announced at the end of October – the great modern economy zone on the border with Egypt and Jordan, the construction of which is to cost USD 500 billion (“from state and private sources”); it is supposed to be the most modern city in the world, the size of Belgium (!), using only renewable energy, where research will be conducted at the highest level, where modern technology companies will emerge, ambitious people from all over the world come and so on. That is – an enclave similar to the leisure one.
These enclaves are clearly the idea of modernizing Saudi Arabia without the need to change the economic system, based on a giant state monopoly of oil extraction and processing, on the periphery of which operates the private sector, completely dependent on state money and government’s grace – and thus incredibly corrupt, which, after the current arrests, will soon show up publicly. It is a public secret in country and the reason for the King Salman’s subjects dissatisfaction. It is a modernization of a capped highway by making a detour.
The Economic modernization is supposed to be joined with religious and social one. Prince Salman uses here generalizations like: women are to be more professionally active, education is to be better, new forms of entertainment will appear (for now even cinema is forbidden). It is not clear, however, what are the goals here how are they going to be achieved. Perhaps it is to weaken the resistance of the influential imams. Schools – hopeless, infused with Islam and based on memory learning – are to be “better”. The prince said even that Islam is to be moderate, while radical Islam is to be ruthlessly fought. It is not specified what this means, but if the future king really intends to change Wahhabism to a less radical version of Islam, a more tolerant and less hostile to the West, this would be the most important result of his program.
What are the chances?
It’s time for two questions: will this modernization succeed and what will result from it?
I am quite skeptical about the chances of achieving ambitious economic goals – but perhaps even their partial implementation will be a success and will give the opportunity to a more sustainable development and at least partly independent of oil – and thus will save the country from going bankrupt. Still, it will not ensure a higher standard of living. On the other hand, the limited finances that Arabia will have in the coming years may gradually lead to limiting funds for the export of Wahhabism – especially if Prince Salman really wants to cut himself off from radical Islam. That would be a positive scenario.
It may happen, however, that although socially and religiously the country will become more “liberal” (quotation marks in relation to Saudi Arabia are indeed necessary here), its rulers will be buying the support of the Imams, or at least their silent agreement for reforms, for aggressive promotion fundamentalism abroad. The support of the Imams is necessary for the rulers, because the legitimacy of their governments derives mainly from the fact that they created the land of “the true, original Islam” that they were “orthodox guardians of holy places.”
If the Imams proclaimed them heretics, apostates of Islam, then a conservative Saudi society would rebel. That would facilitate the activities of the Islamist conspirators that want to replace the Saudis with a new Caliphate. How does Salman intend to maintain the support of imams or neutralize them – we do not know, hence this hypothesis of intensive export of fundamentalism. Perhaps the prince will try to gain public support by showing that he is building a just society and fighting corruption – the recent arrest of the elite shows that he can try on this.
In a country as religious as Saudi Arabia, the removal of the religious class to the sidelines is – without the brutal dictatorship introduced by, for example, Attaturk in Turkey nearly a century ago – very difficult. But such a solution would be very optimistic for the world, because it would bring the end of Wahhabism.
Fortune-telling for Saudi Arabia
It may also happen that Islamists overthrow the Saudis, because society (and the army) will be dissatisfied with the changes in the country. Let us remember that we are talking about a society without entertainment music and cinemas, which envy the West and at the same time recognizes that liberal democracy and capitalism as a system of debauchery, where sin and impurity reign. In the event of rapid moral and economic changes, two scenarios are possible.
The first, which probably Prince Salman counts on, is China. The example of China shows that rapid economic modernization is possible without changing the political system, although today’s communism there, of course, has little to do with communism from 30 years ago. However, there is also a second example of modernizing the sclerotic system: attempts of reforms undertaken in the late 1980s by the last communist leader of the USSR, Gorbachev. His goal was a more democratic socialism and more efficient economic system. As a result, socialism has completely disappeared and the economy has become capitalistic – attempts at improving the system led to its collapse.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, which is based not on discredited ideology, but on religion, which almost all Saudis believe in anyway, attempts to change may lead to a counterattack of traditional forces. If modernization will not improve the standard of living but enforce a change in lifestyle (no money for doing nothing on a state job, you have to do your best in a private company and will change the customs (immoral West), then palace turnover and supported from the outside (Iran) revolution becomes possible; what could not have been done by the communists who attempted to carry out a military coup in Russia in 1991 and turn it back to the USSR, may be done here.
It may also happen that everything goes well and the situation will develop in a third direction: Prince Salman will manage to economically and socially reform Saudi Arabia, its Islam will become more tolerant and the country will stop exporting fundamentalism.
If I were to bet with my own money, I would unfortunately bet on a scenario in which attempts to reform will lead to a rebellion, counter-revolution and the strengthening of Wahhabism combined with the bankruptcy of the country. That wouldn’t be so bad if it effectively cut off funding of radical Islam in Europe and Asia though.
In any case, Saudis can abstain from buying bikinis.
The Polish oryginal: Czy Saudyjki Będą Nosić Bikini?