Do not underestimate Saudi's Deputy Crown Prince

The Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s strategies might once have been unthinkable for the Kingdom, but Dubai’s success story shows how rapidly change can be effected

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Five years before he took over as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum prompted a turn of events that would go on to redefine the Emirates’ reputation around the world.

The head of Dubai’s customs department, Dr Obaid Saqr Busit, and two of his top aides and other officials, were arrested in February 2001 on charges of corruption. Local daily Gulf News reported the three men had been arrested following a two-year investigation, which was headed by HH Sheikh Mohammed.

The arrests sent shockwaves through Dubai, predominantly due to the seniority of the accused. However, the hands-on approach adopted by HH Sheikh Mohammed – then the Crown Prince of Dubai – also reiterated the Emirate’s – and its heir-apparent’s – zero-tolerance policy towards corruption.

In the 15 years since these events, HH Sheikh Mohammed has become a symbol of Dubai’s evolution into a global landmark. Much of the Emirate’s contemporary fame owes itself to the Ruler’s keen awareness of a growing city’s needs. In 1985, for example, he picked the late Sir Maurice Flanagan to launch a Gulf carrier with just $10m – Emirates Airline. Last week, the company reported a $1.93bn (AED7.1bn) profit.

Sheikh Mohammed’s efforts have propelled growth across the full spectrum of Dubai’s economic sectors, most notably that of construction.

Monumental developments, such as Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, Palm Deira, and Dubai Metro, have detached oil prices from the Emirate’s day-to-day operations – and it is looking likely that a similar model will be adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan is designed to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on crude oil exports by 2020.

Commenting at its launch in April, he said: “I think by 2020, if oil stops, we can survive. We need it [now], but I think in 2020, we can live without oil.”

Barring some scepticism, given the Kingdom’s historic appetite for petrodollars, responses to the Deputy Crown Prince’s strategy have been positive. Forbes reported Saudi’s Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) closed 2.5% higher on the day of the announcement.

In the last few months, Prince Mohammad’s has emerged as one of the most candid voices outlining the challenges Saudi currently faces. From his vantage point in the Kingdom’s governmental hierarchy, the Deputy Crown Prince has addressed a wide gamut of issues and how he intends to resolve them. These include topics previously considered sensitive in Saudi, such as government finances, subsidies, and women’s rights.

Prince Mohammad is driving a transformation that could reduce the opacity that sometimes shrouds the Kingdom’s full economic potential. To underestimate him – or Vision 2030 – would be foolish indeed.

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