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The Year Ahead/economics

Why Saudi Arabia Can’t Change Too Quickly

The crown prince must balance his desire for change with a public reticent to adapt.
Women were granted the right to drive on Sept. 26.

Women were granted the right to drive on Sept. 26.

Photographer: Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hasn’t wasted any time implementing his vision for Saudi Arabia’s future. Since leapfrogging other senior royals on the line of succession to the throne, the prince has granted women the right to drive and curbed the power of the religious police. Music plays in restaurants, and many women are swapping their black abayas for colorful ones, sharp contrasts in a country that’s been guided by an austere brand of Islam for decades.

The prince’s proposals for the economy are even more ambitious and are detailed in a plan called Vision 2030. The blueprint aims to reduce the country’s overwhelming dependence on oil revenue by promoting the development of new industries such as tourism and entertainment. To fund that effort, he wants to sell shares in the state-owned giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. as well as privatize state assets, including flour mills, soccer clubs, and the stock exchange. Proceeds from the sales would be channeled into what would be the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The plan also calls for austerity measures to wipe out a budget deficit that by last year had ballooned to more than 15 percent of gross domestic product because of the drop in the price of crude oil.