Saudi Arabia says it has a bright vision for the future, but that promise is already crumbling in the face of the dark reality of the present.
Since launching Vision 2030 – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s blueprint for a bright future – the authorities have executed more than 300 people, including children and peaceful protesters.
Here’s what you need to know about the current changes in Saudi Arabia, and what these “reforms” mean for human rights.
1. Saudi Arabia’s big vision for the future doesn’t mention human rights
Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s grand plan to diversify its economy. Built around three themes: “a vibrant society”, “a thriving economy” and “an ambitious nation”, it is largely aimed at reducing Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil. Vision 2030 does not mention human rights, nor does it outline any kind of meaningful political reform.
But Vision 2030 has provided Saudi Arabia with a dangerously effective smokescreen. When faced with tough questions about human rights, the Saudi government and its supporters have pointed to Vision 2030 as proof that change is on the way, implying that Vision 2030 will promote human rights reform when it does no such thing.
“The doubling of executions under the new Crown Prince reveals that, beneath his glossy public image, Mohammed bin Salman is one of the most brutal leaders in the Kingdom’s recent history. Protesters, including some who were children at the time, have had the death penalty confirmed despite allegations of torture and forced confessions. When she meets the Crown Prince, Theresa May should urge him to commute the sentences of all child protesters facing execution.”
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve
2. By the year 2030, Saudi Arabia is set to execute more than 2030 people
Saudi Arabia has been one of the world’s top five executing countries for more than a decade. For the 300 people executed since Vision 2030 was launched, there is no future of any kind.
If current execution rates continue, the architects of Saudi Arabia’s reforms will have killed more than 2030 people by the year 2030. Since coming to power, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has overseen a doubling of executions and is set to put 200 to death this year alone.
Any vision of the future, however grand and bright, is fundamentally undermined by executions on this scale and brutality.
3. Reforms have been limited while abuses increase
While taking some limited steps forward on issues like women’s rights (such as allowing women to drive for the first time) which receive significant media attention, the Saudi government has taken several steps back on issues like peaceful protest.
Saudi Arabia is a country where taking to the streets or even to Facebook can lead to arrest and execution. Despite its promise of progress, the Government continues to crack down on peaceful protest, using the death penalty and its notorious ‘Specialized Criminal Court’ as instruments of repression. Even children who attend protests have been sentenced to beheading.
4. Vision 2030 is the brainchild of the new Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman
Mohammed Bin Salman, the key architect behind Vision 2030, became Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in July 2017 and will likely become the new King on the passing of his father, King Salman.
Mohammed Bin Salman has been vocal about modernising Saudi Arabia, but his failure to address human rights in Vision 2030 and the power to approve the execution of 18 young protesters after becoming Crown Prince in his father’s absence has left questions about his commitment to real reform.
His drive to develop Saudi Arabia’s economy has also led to upheaval within Saudi Arabia. In October, Mohammed Bin Salman hosted business leaders and diplomats from around the world at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh for a Vision 2030 conference that became known as “Davos in the Desert”. Just a few weeks later, several dozen Saudi princes and businessmen were imprisoned in that same hotel on corruption charges. Those arrested are now reportedly buying their freedom by investing in Vision 2030 related programmes.
5. Companies from all over the world are involved in Vision 2030 – they are in a unique position to push for change
Many big-name companies are involved in Vision 2030, either by committing to open or expand their business in the Kingdom, or by receiving money from the new Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund. These include Uber, Siemens, Six Flags, Nokia and others.
Foreign businesses have operated in Saudi Arabia for decades, and many have used their position to have a positive impact on human rights. Some of the businesses engaged in Vision 2030 have already publicly and privately communicated with Saudi Arabia on issues relating to the torture and execution of juvenile protesters.
Saudi Arabia needs foreign investment to thrive in a post-oil word, and businesses that choose to invest in Vision 2030 are in a unique position to advocate for real change. It is vital that they raise issues like the execution of children with the government of Saudi Arabia.
Vision 2030 is a chance for genuine reform. All those involved, from investors to governments, have an opportunity to make sure that Saudi Arabia makes good on its promise of a bright future.