The histories of world countries are rich dating to the prehistoric periods. One such country is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), whose history dates to the Ottoman Empire during its (Ottoman Empire) expansion in the first quarter of the 16th century (Al-Rasheed 14). The KSA is a desert country encompassing most of the Arabian Peninsula, with Red Sea and Persian (Arabian) Gulf coastlines. Known as the birthplace of Islam, it is home to the religion’s 2 most sacred mosques: Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, destination of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and Medina’s Masjid an-Nabawi, burial site of the prophet Muhammad. Riyadh, the capital, is a skyscraper-filled metropolis. Recent years have seen master plans put in place to transform the kingdom into a futuristic and tourist destination as seen through the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and deals with the West under the king Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and prince Mohamed bin Salman.
The beginnings of the current KSA are attributed to the Emirate of Diriya established in 1744, which formed the first Saudi State. The establishment was under Muhammad Bin Saud, who apart from being a landowner and a broker, also had the political skills of mediation (Al-Rasheed 15). The skills, in addition to his ability to defend the oasis settlement within which he stayed with other households endeared him to the local tribes and members of the settlement, who then paid tribute to him (Al-Rasheed 15).
The tributes and endearment from the members of the settlement transformed Saud from an amir to a defender of the inhabitants of the settlement, who, in addition to the amir’s slaves, served as the military force (Al-Rasheed 15). Further collection of the tributes strengthen Saud’s image and political leadership, distinguishing his lineage from the other residents. Saud’s authority and influence, however, lacked in two aspects that would make him enjoy widespread authority: any distinguished tribal affiliation and great surplus of wealth (Al-Rasheed 16). To correct the two, Saud adopted Wahhabi movement by granting protection to Abd al-Wahhab securing the title of an Imam. The pact between the two grant Saud political influence and legitimacy, while zakat (religious alms) guaranteed him a constant supply of wealth (Al-Rasheed 16).
Wahhabi Islam became an important point for Saud’s expansion as many tribes (including those that were previously hostile to Saud) accepted the religion and pledged allegiance to Saud. The new alliances were important in curtailing the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Arabia, especially after recapturing the Kingdom from the Ottoman Empire and establishing the Emirate of Nejd. Moreover, even after his death, Saud’s son, Abd al-Aziz expanded the Saudi leadership into Riyadh, Kharj and Qasim. The Saudi’s later expanded to Mecca, Qatar, Oman and the Persian Gulf, as well as Bahrain all of who paid Zakat to Diriya (Al-Rasheed 16). while disunity among oases amirs, internal disputes among oases ruling groups, migration of Arabian Peninsula tribes and the peaceful adoption of Wahhabism all provided fodder for the expansion of the Saudis (Al-Rasheed 22). Abd al-Aziz’s expansion essentially created the Third Saudi State, particularly with the capturing of Riyadh to establish the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it stands today
Perhaps one the most threatening issues in the recent times for KSA has been terrorism. Aside from being accused of harbouring terrorists and teaching radicalization of the terrorists, KSA has been under attack by terrorists. In 2004 for instance, Al Qaeda made a series of high profile and audacious attacks against KSA (NCSTRT 5). Dealing with terrorism has therefore been a daunting task for KSA, given that it is a Muslim country. However, given the attacks on the nation, it was essential for the Kingdom to deal with terrorism if it was to remain united and continue in its development agenda. One of the strategies that KSA has used in dealing with terrorism is the de-radicalization and counter-radicalization program. The de-radicalization program involved clerics (Muslim) engaging prisoners in debating the legitimacy of jihad and its correct interpretation with regard to the Qur’an. The idea in such engagement is to help the terrorists to see the folly of their ways and the manipulation of the Quran by extremists to push their agenda (NCSTRT 7).
On the other hand, counter-radicalization involved the government taking steps to raise awareness as well as change the mind-set of the wider population on extremism. The program specifically targeted the youth, who are vulnerable to the extremist teachings and recruitment into militancy. Counter-radicalization additionally targeted prominent religious leaders, who were responsible for spreading radical ideologies. Additionally, the government restructured religious curricula, changing them to espouse more tolerant views and remove references to religious hate. The oversight on religion extended to preaching and review of sponsored publication to ensure that it does not carry any extremist ideologies. These, in addition to arresting, sentencing, counselling and reformation of religious extremist went a long way in not only expunging terrorists and religious extremists in the country, but also in making the country safe in the wake of 2003 terrorist attacks that aimed at destabilizing the country and sowing seeds of discord (NCSTRT 7).
The purpose of making KSA safe and free of terrorist influence and activity is to make it possible for the country to reach its future, especially with the unveiling of the Vision 2030. As an oil dependent country and the largest economy in the Arab with membership in trade organization including WTO, OPEC, and G-20 among others, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman have set an ambitious vision for the Kingdom. The purpose of the Vision as unveiled by the King is to make a “journey toward a better, brighter future” for the country and its citizens (Saudi Vision 2030).
An important part of the Vision is to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, given that it is a finite resource that is nearing depletion at the current rate of exploration in addition to the reducing price of oil (Hindustan Times n.p.). Therefore, to achieve the vision, the government has measures that include a government restructuring program, a strategic directions program, a fiscal balance program, a project management program, regulations review program, performance measurement program, the Aramco strategic transformation program, public investment fund program, and human capital program. Additionally, the Vision covers a national transformation program, strategic partnerships program, the privatization program and the program for strengthening public sector governance (Saudi Vision 2030). Ideally, all the programs stipulated in the Vision 2030 document are meant to initiate better governance, develop and retain human capital, management of resources, enhance business and strategic partnerships, restructure the country’s fiscal budget and open the country more to foreign and local business as drivers to a new diversified economy, whose major driving force is not oil but technological innovation and top quality goods and services.
The most ambitious of KSA’s future, however, is Neom, the proposed $500 billion megacity project unveiled by Mohammad bin Salman (Hindustan Times n.p.). The project that hopes to cover three countries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt has already been termed the “world’s most ambitious project” and when completed will be a futuristic city running on clean energy in addition to being independent. As part of Vision 2030, Neom City is an attempt to provide employment to the country’s youth in the private sector, attract foreign investment as well as bring reforms to the country rolling back some of the country’s earlier regressive laws among them those that did not allow women to drive or vote.
KSA has a long and rich history beginning the 16th Century. The Kingdom has over the years developed to become one of the most powerful economies of the world and the largest economy in Arabia. Established by Muhammad Bin Saud, the lineage of Saud has been on the forefront in guiding the Kingdom to what it has become today. Modern KSA has been plagued by terrorism that threatened the stability of the Kingdom. However, through the de-radicalization and counter-radicalization programs, KSA has successfully navigated the waters of terrorism to become one of the safest countries in the Middle East. The future of KSA is especially promising thanks to Vision 2030 as envisioned by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Through the Vision and Neom City project, KSA’s future looks especially promising.
Al-Rasheed, Madawi. A History of Saudi Arabia. Cambridge University Press, 2002
Hindustan Times. “Ten Things to Know about Neom, Saudi Arabia’s Proposed $500 billion Mega-city.” Hindustan Times, 2017.
NCSTRT. Assessing the Effectiveness of Current De-Radicalization Initiatives and Identifying Implications for the Development of U.S.‐Based Initiatives in Multiple Settings. NCSTRT, 2009.