[Thread] 🧵 Saudi crown prince gave a wide-ranging interview on state television to mark five years since the launch of Vision 2030 to transform the kingdom and diversify its economy.

Follow along for some observations, notes and reactions — 1/16
The bulk of it was dedicated to domestic issues. MBS was bullish on the government meeting its targets, said Saudi economy will experience a “V-shape” recovery as the kingdom emerges from the twin impact of the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices 2/16
MBS looked relaxed throughout the pre-recorded 90-minute interview, offering his usual flurry of stats and economic indicators to show that the economic reforms are working. But economists like @ZiadMDaoud note that reforms have so far fallen short of original 2020 targets 3/16
Coronavirus is partly to blame of course, but in general economic growth has been sluggish even before the pandemic. This can be seen with unemployment, one of the main challenges facing V2030. Unemployment rate among citizens was 12.6% at 2020Q4, down from 14.9% in 2020Q3 4/16
“I don’t wish there is any Saudi without a job”, MBS said when asked whether he is satisfied with the numbers. “This year inshallah will break the 11% barrier, then it will reach around 10%. The Vision’s target is 7% by 2030 but I think we will achieve that way earlier”. 5/16
Citizens and businesses were shocked last year when the government decided to triple the value-added tax from 5% to 15% at the height of the coronavirus crisis, but the crown prince defended that decision as a “painful” but necessary measure 6/16
“Raising VAT to 15% is a temporary decision that will last one to five years and then it will go down to between 5% to 10%,” MBS said. He also said the kingdom has no plans to introduce an income tax 7/16
MBS said introduction of judicial reforms and new codified laws last Feb was instrumental for attracting foreign investment and tourists. He also dismissed the concerns of some conservatives that opening up the country would dilute Saudi national identity 8/16
The interview had some jarring jump cuts. After the one-hour mark, MBS spoke about applying Sharia law and religious texts, and it was interesting that he declined to commit to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence or the teachings of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahhab 9/16
“If Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahhab came out of his grave and found us committed to his texts but closing our minds to ijtihad [reasoning] and treat him as God, he would be the first to oppose that”, he said 10/16
MBS was asked about the reason behind the detention of some prominent clerics since 2017. He said “any person who espouses an extremist ideology, even if he is not a terrorist, he is still a criminal who must be held accountable before the law” 11/16
On foreign policy, MBS downplayed differences with the US under the Biden administration. He said KSA wants to have good relations with Iran and urged Houthis to accept the ceasefire and negotiate to end the conflict in Yemen, using a markedly different tone than before 12/16
Coverage of the interview in local Saudi media was uniformly congratulatory and celebratory, as expected. One top editor called it “historic” and said the crown prince’s answers showed his “encyclopedic knowledge”. Another called it “talk of the hour” 13/16
The tidal wave of ultranationalism and the shrinking margin for freedom of expression in recent years means that any serious examination of govt record is probably out of the question. Instead, even the mildest criticism is outright rejected as unfair “negativity” 14/16
That’s not to say there isn’t genuine and strong enthusiasm for V2030 among Saudis, but the lack of serious debate around many aspects of it says more about the current atmosphere than universal support. KSA ranked 170th out of 180 countries on RSF World Press Freedom Index 15/16
You can read more about the MBS interview and reactions to it here: riyadhbureau.com/p/mbs-intervie…

To keep with the latest on Saudi Arabia, please follow and subscribe to my @riyadhbureau newsletter 📧 16/16

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More from @ahmed

30 Dec 20
Thread on Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul — her early online fame, joining the women driving movement, first and second detentions, this week’s jail sentence and what comes next:
Loujain first came to the attention of many Saudis around seven years ago after going viral on Keek, a short video-sharing app (now defunct) that became popular in the kingdom. At the time she was studying college in Canada
The fact that she decided to appear without a headscarf and to use her real name when the majority of Saudi women still kept their identities online private elicited some strong reactions, but she did not appear intimidated by all the attacks and threats
Read 23 tweets
27 Dec 18
[THREAD] Saudi King Salman ordered a sweeping reshuffle today, replacing several ministers and senior officials, and creating some new entities and structures. Our recap of these changes here: on.ft.com/2BMPpSa Some thoughts below:
First, on the timing: This reshuffle comes almost 4 years after King Salman ascended the throne and ordered his first major shake-up in Jan 2015. Four years is the normal term for ministers so a change was expected, but it also comes at a period of outside pressure post-Khashoggi
Assaf is an interesting but curious choice for foreign minister: He has often represented KSA at G20 and Davos meetings, but his strength is long experience in government as he led the finance ministry for almost 20 years under 3 different kings
Read 17 tweets

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