During the last week of September, immediately following the opening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, a series of seminars, workshops and interactive displays collectively coined "A Day in Riyadh" was showcased at the UN. This week-long "Riyadh Day" was sponsored by the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh (Riyadh), and particularly featured the ongoing work of the Arriyadh (Riyadh) Development Authority (ADA). As a Representative (Observer) for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to the UN, and an attorney with an office in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Huf, Principal of JHI, was pleased and excited to attend.
Focused on the capital city of Saudi Arabia (KSA, or the Kingdom) and the governate (province) of Riyadh, the series of presentations covered subjects relevant to the economy, culture, commerce and development of the entire Kingdom, and the Arab and Islamic worlds more generally.
Of particular interest to those who follow this space will be the planned reformation of Riyadh's transportation system which, if fully executed, may be the single-largest public works project on earth during the period of construction. However, we will list all of the subjects covered by the panel presentations at the UN between September 27 - 30, to provide a broad look at the planned continued development of Riyadh (one of the chief purposes of the conference) which, in turn, may give us a better view of the Kingdom-wide social and economic reforms known as Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030".
9/27 "Riyadh: Planning for People" - the overall City Plan (by 2030) moving forward, including details on Riyadh's new "Smart City" initiative.
9/28 "Riyadh: A Sustainable & People-Friendly City" - details concerning the Sustainable Development of Riyadh.
9/29 "Riyadh: On the Move" - The King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport.
9/30 "Riyadh: Development of Civilization and Social Partnership" - Plans for the continued social, economic and intellectual development of the city's population in line with Islamic principles and the traditions of Arabia, particularly youth and especially young women, empowering them to take a more active role in the growth of the city and the future of the Kingdom as a whole.
(Jason Huf and Dr. Sana Alorf. Dr. Sana is extraordinary, but not unique. She is a medical doctor working in Riyadh who also participates in many charitable and civic endeavors. She volunteered, along with many other young Saudis, to travel to New York and talk about their culture, heritage and way of life in side bars at the exhibition. Many ladies are taking up professions [including and increasingly fields such as law, medicine and science], starting businesses and participating in life outside their homes in the Kingdom. Dr. Sana has a wealth of information that dispells many of the illusions concerning Saudi society and highlights the progress Saudi women have made - and continue to make.)
The public transortation project, scheduled for completion in 2018, is a massive affair that could revolutionize life in Riyadh. In addition to a new bus service, the project includes the construction of a commuter railway (Riyadh Metro) with six lines, dozens of stations, a main terminal for each line, and services areas at each stop, including large-scale shopping complexes at each of the main terminals. Anticipating use by roughly 3.6 million residents daily, over 3,000 transport stands will be constructed to accomodate waiting commuters.
With billions of Saudi Riyals being invested into the project, and given the rather brief time frame, this will generate a labor boom in the capital for qualified Saudis and expatriates. Mr. Huf asked Eng. Hassan Al Musa, Deputy Director of the Transport Planning Department of the High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, if resources had been allocated to process what should be a substantial spike in Visa applications. Potential contractors and subcontractors will be interested to know that the Deputy Director responded that his office is in touch with the Ministry of Labor on a regular basis as they set up for this contingency. So long as employers comply with their filing requirements, he said, there should be no delays in the project caused by a labor shortage brought about by paperwork backlogs.
(Eng. Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf. Mr. Huf found him to be capable, earnest and modest. Although entrusted with day-to-day management of a massive public works project that progresses under a tight schedule, he always gives credit to others, refering to his "Army" of dedicated public servants. "That makes you a General", responded Mr. Huf, who later added, "Eng. Hassan is a nice guy".)
In addition to the lifestyle transformation and relief of traffic congestion that will take place once this project is complete, young Saudis who are lacking in resources such as cars of their own will be able to much more easily venture beyond the confines of their own neighborhoods to look for satisfying work and important educational opportunities. And, everyone who lives in Riyadh should enjoy the benefit of cleaner air arising from fewer cars on the highways.
The entire program provided a window through which one could sample Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the rapid modernization and other wide-ranging reforms ordered by King Salman and spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the aim of guiding a modern but authentically Islamic Saudi Arabia that remains true to its people's history and traditions into a future "Post-Oil" economy.
These reforms include the KSA's Sustainable Development program, which closely follows the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while keeping in conformity with Kingdom's Islamic principles; increased opportunities for youth & women; and, Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program.
At JHI, we have offered our own modest suggestions for the shaping of such sweeping reforms, with an emphasis on attracting increased Foreign Direct Investment in the Saudi market.
With an incoming US Administration that seems keen on utilizing America's energy resources; and, (if feasible) working with Russia to defeat ISIS (which, in addition to commiting henious atrocities, has been fighting forces led directly or indirectly by the Iranians), some may see such investment from the West as slow in coming, and the KSA's reception of it to be less-than-enthusiastic.
Seen by some as signalling potential push-back against the further development of US energy resources and other recent or possible future policy changes, Prince Alaweed bin Talal of Kingdom Holding Company (Saudi Arabia's soverign investment apparatus) suggested selling holdings previously classified "not sellable" (such as shares in Citi Group and US Treasury bonds), which would be a divorce from Saudi Arabia's long-standing policy of having "buy-ins" in important American economic institutions and, thus, the American economy - effectively giving the US a stake in the KSA's existence and continued success.
Noises concerning such potential push-back seem unlikely to stem the increased exploitation of US energy resources (another dip in the price of oil, for example, would seem more likely to give pause to an increase in US production). And, the US-Saudi alliance of over seven decades, while fraying a bit over the last several years, should remain rather tightly tethered: after ISIS is destroyed, a check on Iranian ambition will have been eliminated, and the US and the KSA will more clearly and simply share strong interests in containing Iran and managing increasingly complicated relationships with Russia.
In fact, the strong relationships the KSA enjoys with the West, the interest Western countries have in seeing the continued modernization of Arab states, and Western companies' keen eye to continue - and, possibly increase - their investments in the Gulf region were reinforced recently by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her mid-December visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain.
Pending changes to the Kingdom's commercial and corporate laws, which continue to be rolled out, and given at least one or two geopolitical uncertainties, JHI presently and on the whole views it likely that the environment for Foreign Investors will become even more attractive as the Vision 2030 reforms are implemented in the KSA. As to the Great Social & Economic Reformation of the Kingdom known as "Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030", Mr. Huf doesn't think its on par with the Maji Restoration (the radical transformation experienced in Japan during the late 19th century), but he does see it as the most significant series of reforms in the history of the KSA since the reign of King Faisal (perhaps in the Kingdom's entire history - we'll see) and the most positive collection of developments to take place in the Arab world thus far in this new, turbulent 21st century - and, he certainly viewed the exhibition at the UN positively.