royals’ reform agenda cannot be achieved, no matter how many consultants
provide grand designs.
oil, Saudi Arabia doesn't amount to anything worthy of note. That die was cast
pay well and there are plenty of Western hustlers determined to make big bucks.
If only it
were so easy… First, you spend decades on the basis of a rotten social compact
that has two generations of young Saudis (men, of course) idle away in the
public sector bureaucracy, while being handsomely paid for doing nothing by
their oil-flush government.
On top of
that, those same men – often not just do-nothings, but know-nothings – have
gotten used to having labourers as well as medium- and highly skilled workers
from other nations work as their minions. The net effect is that they build and
maintain a modern-looking and smoothly functioning society.
To The Rescue: Are You Kidding?
the oil riches decline and the world at large is making a determined move away
from dependence on some desert sheiks, McKinsey is called to the rescue. For
the right kind of money, the giant consulting firm is always pleased – and
indeed eager – to help.
And so it
is that we now read articles in the Washington Post and elsewhere that are dutifully
admiring of the young crown prince and his brigade of technical advisers who
are supposedly determined to turn Saudi Arabia around.
hope springs eternal. But there is just one little problem: A nation whose
leadership has essentially been determined for decades to write off the human
development potential of its population at large cannot easily flip a switch.
are world travellers always staying in their own luxurious bubble, Saudi
princes have very little sense of reality and no ability (or track record) in
don’t care about their own people. All they care about is to preserve their own
social status. Realistically, what they attempt to do is rearrange the chairs
on the deck of their Titanic.
Declarations of Admiration?
transparent – and futile – as the Saudi royals’ manoeuvre is, what begs
disbelief is the attempt in some of the world’s leading papers to declare
admiration for the wisdom of the Saudis’ move.
self-reform agenda simply cannot be achieved. It’s not a matter of suddenly
wising up and then calling in McKinsey to fix it all.
after all, a country whose leadership regime has toyed with the Western world
in the most cynical fashion by sending out official declarations that it is not
a state sponsor of terrorism (largely true), while in all likelihood being the
world’s biggest private sponsor of terrorists.
Saudi, Maligning Iran
even more baffling is the consistent effort, especially pronounced in the
United States, to whitewash whatever goes on in Saudi Arabia, while maligning
whatever happens in Iran.
There are plenty of things in Iran that must be rectified and improved. But one
future-oriented fact is undeniable. In terms of its human development
potential, Iran is bound to outclass neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
improvement in UN Human Development Index score from 1990 to 2012 was globally
second only to South Korea, and it now rates in the second-best tier.
expectancy grew by leaps and bounds, for example, along with living standards
and education access. Childbirth deaths are much lower than peer averages.
one’s qualms with Iran, historically it is among humanity’s great nations in
terms of its arts, culture and many other human skills. Saudi Arabia? Not so
much. It is a glitzy pile of sand, amped up by the skills solely of foreign
Plenty Of Business Opportunities
oil, Saudi Arabia doesn’t amount to anything worthy of note – had it not
declared itself unilaterally to be the custodian of the entirety of Islam.
Which in itself has led to a whole host of festering problems, incongruities
and false claims and choices?
enough, cynical and mercenary as the Saudi leaders always have been, they
provide plenty of business opportunities to any and all foreigners willing to
sell their services and goods, if not themselves.
Because the Saudis often are the highest bidders and there are plenty of
hustlers in the Western world determined to make big bucks, no matter the
morals or the circumstances.
If you want
to judge the prospects of Saudi reform, just look at the previous initiative
announced with great fanfare in – as Reuters has chronicled – every time
there’s a big decline in oil prices.
for example, then-Crown Prince Abdullah (who reigned as king from 2005 to
2015), proclaimed “[T]he boom period is over. We must all get used to a certain
type of lifestyle that does not rely entirely on the state.”
that never occurred. But the bravado did manage to hoodwink more than a few
universities, for example, always eager to increase their tuition funds, were
eager participants in creating the Saudi university mirage.
With a few
years of hindsight, it is now clear that much of this effort was built on sand,
literally. It is bound to vanish, not unlike some dunes in the Sahara.
should Western institutions worry? Saudis pay well – and extracting a rent from
them, in a mercenary context, is far more important than achieving real
for McKinsey just as much as U.S. universities. They are but compliant and
complicit fig leafs in the Saudi royals’ charade.
Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief
of The Globalist.