India-Gulf Ties: Modernity and Economic Diversity Inspires Hope
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks at a meeting of the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Alliance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 26 November, 2017.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks at a meeting of the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Alliance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 26 November, 2017.(Photo: AP)

India-Gulf Ties: Modernity and Economic Diversity Inspires Hope

It all seems a little surreal when we see our favourite leaders and celebrities in person. Wonder how these lucky people must have felt when they casually ran into none other than the Crown Prince of Saudi himself?

The moment when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman stopped to take dozens of selfies with an enthusiastic crowd at Al-Ula – the largest archaeological city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – the pictures and videos went viral and gave social media enthusiasts something to chatter about.

The question that arises is, why is this important?

Tinge of Modernism

It shows us a different side of a country that is more often than not scrutinised and stereotyped more than almost any other country in the world.

Oil, desert, oppressed women, religious fanaticism are some of the most clichéd associations that Gulf countries in general have to field.

However, in recent years, Gulf countries have been witnessing cultural, economic and political transformation on an unprecedented scale.

The image of the Crown prince of Saudi clicking selfies with the general public is indicative of how a tinge of modernism is slowly seeping into the very fabric of Saudi Arabia and its cultural ethos. It exemplifies their will to change with the times.

Young Guns Bring Pragmatism to the Table

Most of the international knowledge associated with Arabs is the outcome of the news and media. So the images associated with the Arab world are related to catastrophes and unfortunate events and rarely reflect the reality of life in the Arab world. However, the truth is that the Gulf countries are a unique blend of culture, tradition, entertainment, and modernity.

The upcoming generation of princes of Gulf countries like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are a breed of well-educated young men charting a new, more modern course for their respective countries. The younger generation of princes have a bolder vision unlike their predecessors, who were relatively more traditional in their approach.

The Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (35 years old), the Crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (32 years old), Crown prince of Abu Dhabi (32 years old) are some of the young guns who are bringing pragmatism to the table in their approach to governance.

Economic Diversification

It is clear that energy resources alone cannot sustain Gulf Arab economies and societies for too long. Therefore, the quest for economic diversification is a vital imperative and, a major challenge. The effort to understand this important social and economic change has already begun.

There has been a vital restructuring of financial policy in many Gulf Arab states that has toppled years of usual government spending tied to oil. Efforts to reduce government expenditure and promote economic diversification include fostering a growing private sector and inviting investments from a diverse range of verticals including tourism, entertainment, business, manufacturing, and infrastructure among others. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders already know that economic transformation requires a well-rounded approach.

For instance, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 — an ambitious diversification plan backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, released in April 2016 — intends to rebalance the Saudi economy away from oil. It sets goals for the next 15 years: to increase the chunk of non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent, and to raise the contribution of the private sector to GDP from 40 percent to 65 percent.

Similarly, Oman Vision 2020, Dubai Vision 2021, Qatar National Vision 2030, and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, all aim to achieve tangible levels of economic diversification. These plans are crucial not just for economic evolution, but also for the ambitions of the young Arabs.

Positive Impact on India-Gulf Relations

Strikingly, the most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. It is experiencing the pangs of a cultural and economic transformation.

With Saudi business hotshots and heads of state not spared charges of venality, and women granted permission to obtain driving licences; from Saudi hosting the first-ever Comic Con and YouTube fanfest to granting citizenship to a robot; from proposing an independent $500 billion megacity (NEOM) to receiving investments worth billions of dollars from industry giants like Softbank; and from pushing the frontiers of art and culture to pledging a return to a moderate form of Islam, the country is sprinting towards transformation and modernisation like no one else.

This has positively impacted the bilateral relations between India and various GCC countries. According to a recent tweet by the official handle of the Indian Embassy in Riyadh, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains the most preferred destination for the Indian expatriates.

GCC is undoubtedly a region that has managed to grab eyeballs and create conversations in global political circles. The sweeping reforms underway in the Gulf are here to stay, and something to watch out for!

Also Read : Shifting Sands: What Is Changing in Saudi Arabia? 

(Devika is a full time public affairs professional and part time freelance journalist. She can be reached @deviksS13 . This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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