Saudi Arabia’s Strategy to Liberalize

Written by Anthony Constantini

What’s happening: In the coming years, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will become king of a country heavily reliant on oil revenues, an unsafe bet in the long term. But it’s also a country with a massive youth population. His solution since becoming crown prince in 2017 has been a slow, careful attempt at modernizing society and diversifying the economy.

  • The numbers: About sixty-three percent of the Saudi population is younger than 30, and the median age is 29. By diversifying the economy and liberalizing the country, bin Salman clearly hopes to provide an economy that works for those individuals.

Domestic changes: Women have been given the right to drive and have entered the workforce en masse. International music festivals have appeared even though music had been banned in public places. And the morality police, which enforced the country’s social norms, has been weakened.

Internal pushback? Much of Saudi Arabia’s rural countryside is still fiercely conservative and not comfortable with modernization. While the kingdom is an absolute monarchy, the monarch cannot push too hard, too fast in a region of upheaval.

A hectoring West: The Biden administration’s war on “autocracy” has aggravated enemies and allies alike — and Saudi Arabia is no exception. During his campaign, Biden ran on making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for its traditionalism, and his attacks have created animosity between himself and bin Salman.