Politics & News

Saudi Arabia’s Growing Power is Shaping the World –Newsweek

Saudi Arabia has become a critical player on the regional and international stages, owing to the groundbreaking transformation in its domestic and foreign policies.

This transformation is led by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has embraced Saudi Vision 2030, an ambitious plan that aims to give the Kingdom a globalized character and a transition away from oil dependence through several futuristic initiatives and megaprojects.

In this regard, Newsweek Magazine highlighted in its latest issue Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a political heavyweight on the world stage, as it seeks more robust and balanced ties with other global powers, including the US, China and Russia.

Balancing Act

Saudi Arabia’s balancing act is based on two primary factors, according to Ali al-Shihabi, a Saudi political expert who founded the Arabia Foundation think tank and now serves on the advisory board of NEOM.

“One is the increasing importance of China as the single largest importer of Saudi oil and a partner that is willing to supply Saudi with arms and technology with no conditions attached,” he told Newsweek.

Saudi Arabia's Growing Power is Shaping the World –Newsweek
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping

“The second is the perceived unreliability of the relationship with the US that can fluctuate dramatically depending on political currents in D.C., so Saudi feels it has to spread its chips,” al-Shihabi added.

Longstanding Relations

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US stretches back to the early years of the Kingdom, established by King Abdulaziz Al-Saud in 1932. These ties have evolved into a strategic partnership over the years.

Saudi Arabia has also become a central player in the US endeavors to counter Iranian influence in the region. Moreover, Washington has long benefited from the Kingdom’s special influence as the world’s largest crude oil exporter and custodian of Islam’s holiest sites.

Embracing Multipolarity

In recent years, several nations, including Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, have adopted a new foreign policy approach. They have begun to leverage their growing geopolitical clout to serve their interests in dealing with both major and fellow emerging powers.

Given its prominent position as a leading member of OPEC+, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in addition to being one of the fastest-growing economies of the G20, Riyadh is in a unique position to follow this path. Experts at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) refer to these nations as “global swing states.”

On this matter, Kristina Kausch, deputy managing director of GMF South, told Newsweek: “As for many middle powers/swing states in the Global South, for Saudi Arabia, multi-alignment is the logical response to a more volatile, complex, multipolar world order.”

She explained that this strategy is significant for Saudi Arabia “as the adaptation and sustainability of its geo-economic business model depends on good relations with the United States, China and Russia alike.”

‘Saudi First’ Approach

Although Washington remains Riyadh‘s top security partner, Beijing has emerged as its largest trade partner and energy importer, while robust ties with Moscow play key role in managing global energy production and pricing through OPEC+.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, noted the recalibration of Saudi Arabia’s strategic approach. He told Newsweek: “Saudi Arabia is aware that the world is no longer unipolar with just the United States dominating everything.”

He added that Riyadh is also aware that the world is “moving towards a multipolar world with other powers rising like China and India, and that it has to maintain a relationship with as many of these countries, especially these rising powers, who are its major customers for oil and petrochemicals.”

Haykel pointed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s approach to reshape the Kingdom’s direction, which he called a “Saudi First” policy.

“Given that it’s placing its own interests first and it’s desperately trying to transform itself and diversify its economy and become less dependent on oil revenues, it is opting for policies that mean, for example, it has to keep excellent relations with China and America simultaneously,” he said.

Crucial Player

Stabilizing and strengthening relations with Riyadh is particularly significant to the US administration. In this respect, Mohammed Alhamed, a Saudi geopolitical analyst serving as president of the Saudi Elite consultancy, pointed out that a breakthrough would be particularly crucial, as Saudi Arabia may have the potential to drive real change amid the considerable instability across the Middle East resulting from the war in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia's Growing Power is Shaping the World –Newsweek
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden

Alhamed said: “Saudi Arabia’s weight in economic and geopolitical spheres necessitates the US to consider Saudi interests in negotiations. Given Saudi’s strategic importance, the US may need to balance its administration ideology agenda with the broader benefits of maintaining a strong relationship with Riyadh.”

“If the US needs to keep its influence in the Middle East, it should ensure collaboration on mutual interests such as regional stability, counterterrorism and security efforts and energy security,” he added.

Social Reforms

On the domestic level, Haykel, from Princeton University, stressed that under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision, the Kingdom underwent changes that have paved the way for significant social reforms.

These reforms include permitting women to drive, easing the male guardianship system and establishing new entertainment centers. They have also led to a surge in foreign investment, boosted tourism, and opened the door for hosting high-profile concerts, sporting events and the first women’s swimsuit fashion show.

Major Strides

The Saudi Embassy to the US spokesperson, Fahad Nazer, commented on Saudi Arabia’s recent domestic and global achievements.

He told Newsweek that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enjoys excellent relations with the overwhelming majority of nations around the world” and “believes that it is uniquely positioned to bridge the differences between the global north and global south and east and west.”

He added that “While Saudi Arabia has every reason to cultivate its newer relations with various countries, based on its economic interests in the context of Vision 2030, our relationship with the United States has not only endured for eight decades but it has also deepened and broadened to now include advanced technologies, supply chain resilience and space exploration.”

Saudi Vision 2030

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030. It is an ambitious national plan for transformation, aiming to reform the public sector, the economy, and society. It is based on 3 main pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.

According to Nazer, “Saudi Vision 2030 is moving forward full steam ahead and many of its objectives and goals have already been achieved and have been revised upwards.”

Nazer added: “We have empowered our youth, our women and our entrepreneurs. We have also revolutionized the delivery of government services. These measures have diversified the economy, generated thousands of jobs and improved the quality of life for Saudis and non-Saudis alike.”

“All indicators suggest that there is very broad support among Saudis for Vision 2030 and its various programs,” he said.

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