Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was just beginning to realize an ambitious vision to use oil revenues to create a post-oil economy in Saudi Arabia. It was a plan that promised young Saudis a bright future that included new freedoms and opportunities. Thousands were trained in hospitality and IT; innovation hubs were launched; airports and gleaming financial districts were built.
“We felt like we were helping Saudi Arabia to join and lead in the 21st century, we felt like we were making our home a better place,” says Amira, a Riyadh entrepreneur. “Suddenly our nationality meant allegiance to something bigger than ourselves.”
But oil prices crashed as the coronavirus spread. Financial districts are deserted, tourism development and promotions shelved. To weather the storm, a new austerity has been imposed, and more is being asked of young Saudis. Taxes have gone up, and subsidies have been slashed.
With the crown prince’s vision in doubt, some young Saudis are suddenly questioning their place in society. Mohammed, an IT specialist, left his job in London to work as a consultant in Riyadh. “I don’t know which Saudi I live in anymore,” he says.
AMMAN, Jordan; and RIYADH, Saudi Arabia
For Mohammed, like many Saudis, the “good old days” were only just beginning.
The nation’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was promising – and delivering – almost anything a young Saudi could ask for: social freedoms, cultural events, tech hubs, women’s advancement, art galleries, free university, jobs.
Like many young Saudis, Mohammed – he requested that his full name not be used so that he may speak freely – was lured back home from abroad by the crown prince’s government to achieve a shared vision: transform Saudi Arabia from a kingdom reliant on oil to an open, modern, tech-savvy state.
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The 28-year-old IT specialist left his job at a London firm to work as a consultant in Riyadh, and soon started living a life not too dissimilar to the one he had abroad.
“This was a chance for us to build the society and lives we wanted at home rather than pursue it elsewhere,” Mohammed says.
But after the triple crises of the pandemic, the collapse of crude oil prices, and falling financial markets, young Saudis are awakening to yet another reality; one of austerity, rising taxes, slashed subsidies, and delayed and canceled projects.
It’s causing economic, and identity, whiplash. Will the crown prince’s promises, and a Saudi identity built on perks and privileges, stand up when the perks are no longer there and their jobs are more demanding?
“I don’t know which Saudi I live in anymore,” Mohammed says.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, Crown Prince Mohammed (MBS) was just beginning to realize his ambitious Vision 2030 economic transformation plan, which entails using oil revenues to invest in projects and initiatives, from tourism to artificial intelligence, to create a post-oil…