In 2021, Saudi Arabia kept up the breakneck speed of reforms that have, in recent years, propelled it to become a dynamic business, tourism, and cultural destination.
The kingdom has undertaken some of the world’s most ambitious megaprojects, The National News states.
From education reform and changing women’s role in society to investing billions in green energy, every month of 2021 appeared to bring a bold new announcement from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Critics might dismiss many of these ideas as being based on slogans more than substance, but this view is increasingly outdated as the effects of reforms from years past are felt, with women’s participation in the workforce rising from 13% in 2018 to 20% in 2020 and with construction on major projects — such as the Red Sea tourism development project focused on 90 islands on the country’s eastern coastline – well underway.
On the social scene, the kingdom hosted its first F1 race this year. It also held large outdoor festivals and even built a winter wonderland.
In October, Prince Mohammed inaugurated the Middle East Green Initiative summit in Riyadh. It is hoped the initiative will contribute to clean fuel solutions that will affect the lives of more than 750 million people around the world.
As to its own green development, Saudi Arabia has focused on renewable energy. When the country’s ambitious solar energy projects are realized, the kingdom will have added 60 gigawatts of solar power to its national grid by 2030. For comparison, the peak electricity demand of New York in winter is close to 25 gigawatts.
The Green Initiative announcement came after the kingdom announced the establishment of a regional center for sustainable development to further coordinate renewable energy efforts across the Middle East. The Saudi Green Initiative aims to double the kingdom’s current targets for reducing carbon emissions.
The world’s biggest tourism promotion
Saudi Arabia plans to invest more than $1 trillion in the tourism sector over the next 10 years, Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb announced in October.
Investment in the sector is one of the pillars of the Vision 2030 transformation initiative that seeks to diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Saudi Arabia aims to increase the contribution of the tourism sector to its economy to more than 10 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030 from about 3 per cent.
Under the Vision 2030 plan, the kingdom seeks to attract 100 million local and international visitors annually by 2030 by making the most of its archaeological sites, bustling cities and pristine beaches.
Neom, the completely new, green and “smart” city development north of the Red Sea in Tabuk province, is one of the world’s most ambitious megaprojects.
The $500 billion city, with a planned population of one million and a 176-kilometer layout, will have vertical take-off and landing public transport as well as giant “solar domes” to provide desalinated drinking water. The entire development will be dotted with parks and pedestrian areas.
The city will also host Oxagon, the world’s largest floating industrial complex, strategically situated near the Suez Canal.
In December, 250 Saudi business leaders gathered at the Discover Neom event in London to promote investment in the project, described by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar, as “a global hub for innovation and an accelerator for growth.”
Reopening the Grand Mosque in Makkah
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque in Makkah started receiving pilgrims at full capacity in October for the first time since the pandemic began in late 2019. The kingdom removed the mask requirement and social distancing rules in open spaces after a decline in coronavirus infections.
In November, Saudi Arabia announced a new service for overseas pilgrims, which will issue permits for Umrah and prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah as well as for visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
The non-profit city
At present, the world’s largest business incubator hub is in France, known as Station F, a sprawling mini-city for brainstorming in Paris that covers 34,000 square metres and has Facebook, Microsoft and Naver as business partners.
Now, Saudi Arabia is planning its own incubator with a twist – one that focuses on projects for the public good.
In November, Prince Mohammed announced a grand plan for a “non-profit city”, comprising a huge network of business incubators, training facilities and facilities for non-profit and non-governmental organizations on an international scale.
He said the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Non-Profit City will “host academies, colleges, ‘Misk schools’, a conference center, a science museum and a creative center offering a space to support the ambitions of innovators in sciences and new generation technology such as AI, Internet of Things and robotics”.
Sweeping education reform
In September, Prince Mohammed launched a program to shake up education, teach the values of global citizenship and adapt the kingdom to a changing world.
The Human Capability Development Programme (HCDP) is part of Vision 2030 and the Crown Prince said he hopes the HCDP will give Saudis the skills needed to compete globally in the 21st century, including in areas such as creative thinking, data analysis, technical capabilities, and emotional and social skills.
It will introduce subjects including digital skills, Islamic studies, national unity and self-defense to school syllabi next year and will add smart-learning tools to its education system. Life and family skills, critical thinking, social studies and English at the primary level will also feature in the new curriculum.
Women in the armed forces
In September, Saudi Arabia’s first recruits graduated from the Armed Forces Women’s Cadre Training Centre, the first time in the kingdom’s history that women will begin serving in front-line roles.
The decision to allow women in the Saudi military came as part of Vision 2030, which focuses on issues such as women’s empowerment and gender equality in all fields.
Saudi women can now climb the ranks from soldier to officer in the Royal Saudi Air Defence Force, Royal Saudi Navy, Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force and the Armed Forces Medical Services.
In July World Heritage Committee agreed not to place Great Barrier Reef on ‘in danger’ list after a global lobbying effort from Australia against the proposed listing. Australia – a significant producer and exporter of coal and gas – initially won support from oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both committee members, to delay any decision on the danger listing until at least 2023. Read the full story here.