Abdullah Al-Mudaifer (AAM): Peace and blessings be upon you. Welcome to this very special interview with Crown Prince His Highness Mohammed bin Salman that is being broadcasted on the Saudi Channel and on a number of Arabic channels. Greetings to you, Your Highness. It’s a pleasure to have been given this opportunity.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (CP): It’s my pleasure also to meet with you Abdullah. You’re one of the best interviewers in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. It’s my honor to be with you.
AAM: It’s my honor, Your Highness. Today, Your Highness we are celebrating the fifth Anniversary for Vision 2030 of the Kingdom. I would like to go back to square one. Why this Vision, and in another manner to ask the question, what if we were to continue with the same previous way as an oil producing country, a rich country, proceeding down the same path?
CP: If we were to go back in history oil no doubt has greatly served the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but we know that Saudi Arabia has been a country established before the oil. The amount of income and growth that oil has realized is much more than what we needed at that time in the thirties and forties. So, the volume of the surplus of the income and economic growth was much more than we were aspiring for by hundreds of times. This has created the impression that oil will ensure all of our needs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
CP: At the time, the population was less than 3 million people. We’re talking in the thirties and forties, or even much less maybe. In Riyadh, there was only 150,000 people at the time. With time our production increased very slightly of course, the population number increased in a huge manner from one million to three million up to around 20 million Saudis. So, oil has barely been able to cover the needs and the type of living we have been accustomed to since the 60s, 70s, 80s, and after. If we were to proceed with the same manner and in the light of the increased population number this will have quite an impact in 20 years on the standard of living, we’ve become accustomed to for about 50 years. So, this was risk number one, and we are Saudis. We need to maintain the same standard of living. On the contrary, we do seek to improve to an even better level, and we aim to increase growth.
CP: This is in addition to the risk that the economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be depending mainly on oil, and what will oil be facing as challenges in the forty or fifty years ahead. Limited utilization, or maybe the prices might be less, or there might be a dysfunction in the economic situation which might entail financial and economic repercussions that could be negative so that was need number one. Need number two is that there are numerous opportunities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in different sectors other than just the oil sector. In mining, in tourism in services, in logistics, in investment, etc. … huge opportunities, even if we didn’t have any problem in terms of oil then there still would be enthusiasm and a big drive towards achieving these enablers that we aspire to benefit from as Saudis for our beloved country. So, I believe that was the main emphasis for the Vision 2030 in order to eliminate the challenges that we face and to exploit the untapped opportunities that may constitute 90 percent of our situation today and we will continue to grow and to prosper and to compete at the world level.
AAM: In five years, what are the most important achievements made?
CP: So many achievements, yet if we were to talk about the most important challenges that existed before, in for example housing. We had a housing problem for 20 years that we could not resolve, and the citizen was waiting to receive a loan or a housing subsidy for nearly 15 years. The level of housing did not increase, it was always between 40-50 percent, before the Vision it was 47 percent. During the reign of King Abdullah God rest his soul about 250 billion riyals were allocated in 2011. In 2015, out of these 250 billion, only 2 billion were disbursed and it was not utilized, and the Ministry of Housing could not transfer them into existing projects because the situation of the State was quite weak. The Ministries were scattered, there wasn’t a public policy, so the Ministry of Housing could not succeed without having a general policy for the State in coordination with the municipalities, the Central Bank the Ministry of Finance for enacting legislations private sector, etc… So, these 250 billion were returned back to the treasury and an annual budget was disbursed but the outcome was that the percentage of housing increased from 47 percent to 60 percent within four years only and this is quite an indicator showing where we are heading.
CP: The economic growth in the non-oil sector was within an average that was not quite as we were aspiring. In the fourth quarter in 2019 when the non-oil economy grew about 4.5 percent and then we had… if it weren’t for the pandemic in 2020, it would have exceeded 5 percent in the non-oil sector. We shall retrieve these levels hopefully this year and the coming years and even more in the future. Unemployment at the beginning of the Vision… Unemployment was about 14 percent in the first quarter of 2020. We will have 11 percent and a little over, because of the pandemic unemployment increased. We were the sixth best country in G20 in terms of performance and unemployment but in the last part or in the fourth quarter of 2021 we were back to 12 percent. We shall break the 11 percent and reach 10 percent and a bit over until we reach a better rate in the non-oil revenues, we raised the revenues from 66 billion to 350 billion Saudi riyals. The commercial license used to take days to be produced, going through six entities, now it can be done in half an hour online. The foreign investments tripled up to 17 million a year. The Saudi market was stuck after the last crisis between 4000 points to 7000 points. Now we exceeded 10000, which means that the private sector has started to grow. So, these are huge numbers compared to what has been achieved in the four years. It would take a lot of time to explain this.
AAM: I want to ask about a particular sector now, the Vision is one of the best transformative programs we are talking about economic, political, social… But Your Highness, are we growing at a faster speed than we should? Are we trying to burn these stages?
CP: There’s nothing called too fast. If you have an opportunity and can be achieved and is achievable and I do not achieve it with the pretext that I don’t want to hurry, then it means I’m procrastinating, and I don’t want to work. If we have an opportunity, we should grab it whether it’s 10, 100, 1,000, or 10s of thousands of opportunities, and we shall develop our human resources and abilities of the government to achieve these opportunities and once we do this will open new horizons.
AAM: The vision, the objectives of the vision are so ambitious, but the question now is how should we ensure implementation?
CP: In terms of what?
AAM: In terms of implementation, the Vision when you say 70 percent. When you say housing 70 percent for example.
CP: We are proceeding towards that end but many of these numbers are so high in terms of our objectives. Like for example the issue of the oil but the idea to ensure implementation. I was talking about the position of the government. I don’t think that there’s a change in terms of achieving the numbers. I believe that we have managed to surpass them before the deadline. For housing, the objective is 60 percent. We did reach 60 percent in 2020. So, 62 percent, we should reach that before 2025 so we have gone beyond the said objectives. From 62 percent to 70 percent of those Saudis with homeownership.
CP: Also, the Public Investment Fund the goal of its size was set for 2020 at 7 trillion riyals. Now in 2020 it’s going to be 4 trillion riyals and we’re going to amend it to 10 trillion riyals in 2030. So, all the numbers that we thought they were huge numbers and unachievable we did manage to break a part of them in 2020 and we shall break even more numbers in 2025 which means that we shall achieve even higher numbers in 2030. Going back to the position of the State the biggest challenge that we faced in 2015 when King Salman became King is that you have Ministries, you have institution, you have a governing system with 3 powers but when the executive power that you find in the position of the State is not there you’re not creating a policy but it is not prepared centrally at the State, like the Housing Ministry got 250 billion riyals that could not be used because we had problems with the municipalities and the policies of the municipalities were not in line with the housing policies. It needed a system related to the real estate mortgage lending to bank, Central Bank legislations apply this. So, without a strong position for the State that draws policies and sets strategies and aligns them with the different entities and grants to every ministry the role it is needed to implement it, nothing will be achieved.
CP: For example, for the housing in our work we have established a State position and we have covered about 70 percent and this has managed to be translated on the ground because it was not just the work of the Ministry of Housing but it’s the work of municipalities, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, the Experts Commission for enacting legislations. This has been translated into 60 percent achievement for housing. So, 2015 was quite a difficult year. 80 percent of the ministries were not efficient. I wouldn’t even appoint them in the smallest of companies. In the Public Investment Fund, the second line was somewhat nonexistent of deputies or under-secretaries and the leaderships at the ministries were quite absent, most of those that work was working on routine work just to finish certain transactions but nothing strategic, no planning to achieve the objectives or future goals so there wasn’t a team, no good governance, no Royal Court, nothing that would be able to support decision making. So, before you achieve anything you need to establish the team. You need to establish the machinery that will assist you to achieve and accomplish all these opportunities and aspirations that we’re all looking forward to, so 2015 was a very difficult year. A small part was implemented for restructuring the government establishing The Council for the Economic Affairs for the Social Affairs Security Affairs, restructuring certain sectors, restructuring certain ministries appointing new ministers and a second wave for appointing deputy ministers and under-secretaries so one of the most important things we’ve worked on at the end of 2015 that we have classified in every ministry.
CP: The most important 20 leaders we’re sort of classifying who would be in the green, yellow, and red of these leaders. Ninety percent were in the red and yellow, only 10 percent were in the green zone. So, we didn’t have any operating team so how are we going to change all of these guys to transform 70 percent of rank to the green field? Going back to the State position so establishing a consul for economic or social affairs doesn’t mean that we’re done with the restructuring. You need institutional work within the State. So, we started establishing strategic strategies and commissions under my chair to translate the Vision and place it in strategies for every sector – housing, energy, industry, quality of life etc. and other strategies and problems that we established for the Vision. We have endeavored to establish the Budgeting Bureau which is for setting the budget of the State so this wouldn’t be for the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance it was just the treasury just to disburse based on the budget and the financial commission has been established that meets twice a week, or once every two weeks actually, to align the budget and we’re about to finish with the Policies Office. So, we have covered 70 percent, so when you set the Vision you put the objectives and you say these could be achieved these are the opportunities these are our capacities: We were talking about natural wealth or human resources, or economic opportunities, then these structures are being translated and these structures may cost for example 2 trillion riyals as a budget then you contact the financial commission the financial office and say it’s in my capacity to maintain the finance to spend up to 800 billion to 1 trillion riyals.
CP: Going back to the strategy office, you set the strategies, you delay some projects and you delay the cost of some until we reach the financial alignments suitable for the coming years and translate it into policies through committees now and in the future through a specialized office that we will establish by the end of this year and these will be transformed into orders given to the ministers to implement that strategy with a clear role for every ministry, a clear objective with a coordination distribution of functions for all the ministries to achieve every required objective. So, this work has taken around 3 years from 2016 to develop the position of the state till 2018, until we started our launching. If you notice the achievements were somewhat weak compared to 2019 where most of the achievements economic and … and no worries about 2020 we will have like a V-shape recovery. We can see this year hopefully what will be done. So, this has taken quite some effort to establish it. As we said we have covered like 70 percent for establishing position for the state highly efficiently and then just have 30 percent will be done maybe next year.
AAM: A bit earlier you have mentioned an important information about the team. How do you select your team Your Highness?
CP: Of course, their merit, their efficiency their capacity are basics. The most important thing there should be passion. The person in charge should have the passion so when he assumes a certain position it should be his passion, his personal passion. For example, for Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki it’s true that he’s really efficient for this position. He’s into sports but the issue of sports is his personal issue, it’s his personal interest, his passion. So, the passion is the biggest motivation for any official and leader to act. If he is not passionate about what he’s doing it will be so difficult for him to achieve. The same applies for many of our ministers. If you give me any name, I will tell you where’s his passion, from where it emanates, and how he can achieve what he can.
AAM: One of the most important pillars for the vision is the Public Investment Fund. You have mentioned the objectives between 2014 and 2016, the assets were 570 billion. The return was less than 3 percent. You have increased their assets up to 2.5 trillion. In 2025 it will be increased up to 4 trillion. In 2030 as they claim it will amount to 7.5 trillion. My question Your Highness today is how much are the revenues for the Public Investment Fund? How much are we receiving in 2025? How much will we be receiving or what is targeted in 2030?
CP: Of course, the revenues for Public Investment Fund for the state treasury is zero. It is that we create a huge fund so that after 2030 it will be replenishing the state revenues. So, the aim is to transform their profits at the expense of the growth of the fund. We have 2.5 trillion or 4 trillion in 2025 it will not be sufficient to establish a balance from the revenues that we receive from the oil sector the objective has changed in the balance it will be declared officially it will be 10 trillion in 2030. So, our main focus is the growth of this Public Investment Fund. This is what has been done in four years, it has grown by 300 percent. In the next five years it will grow by 200, or more than 200 percent, and hopefully in 2030 we will reach up to 10 trillion. Afterwards a policy will be established based on the situation to see how much we are going to disburse as revenues, it will not exceed 2.5 percent of the amount of the fund in order to maintain the continuity of the growth and the inflow of revenues.
AAM: What I understood from you Your Highness is that this is our new oil barrel.
CP: Yes, it is the new oil barrel from the industries of petrochemicals, and from the other manufacturing industries, and we also need an oil barrel from the public investment for revenues, and we also need revenues from the diversification of the economy. Nowadays I know it won’t go to the state budget, the revenues were 3 percent today how much is the percent? It’s true the profitability of the fund was between 2 and 3 percent. Now the fund is targeting 6-7 percent, and this has been achieved for most of their investments of the funds what is even more important how much … how much in terms of investment has been spending before the Vision at the starting of this fund it was spending only 3 billion riyals as new investments in Saudi. In 2020 the public investment that has been spent was 90 billion riyals in new fields, new investments not in stocks. Now in 2021 it will spend 160 billion. If you look at the state budget the capital is spending 150 billion so it’s spending more. Now the public investment is spending more than the capital is spending for the state budget, meaning that the Public Investment Fund motivates the economy of Saudi more than the budget and this will continue in an ascending manner until it reaches more than 300 billion in 2030 there will be new investments so only three times even or a bit less than what the state used to spend in Saudi.
AAM: There is a question here the volume of the fund 2.5 trillion in 2030 is going to be 4 trillion riyals. How will you bring this cash how do you want to spend it?
CP: We have established a policy for this Public Investment Fund it should not maintain any asset. Any asset that matures it should dispose of it. If it’s in their stock markets, we will reduce our share and will maintain a share to give us control.
AAM: Can you give me examples?
CP: I cannot give you examples because it will affect the Saudi market when we hurt the others so there could be legal actions. It would be in violation of that. So, no company will continue one day without submitting some submissions within this year, next year. Any new company that wants to establish after it achieves profitability it will not continue for more than five years without being listed in the market like and their projects… Every year we generate money from this, and we take the cash, and we reinject it in the market. This is what will bring the 160 billion. This is what will help us to reach the 400 billion in 2030. In 2030 there will be the capital spending, it will be the Public Investment Fund enough from the state budget. This year the Public Investment Fund is leading the capital spending in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
AAM: This is the idea Your Highness that I would like you to simplify to me. How can we proceed if we were to follow these steps? The Public Investment Fund will enable us to do without oil?
CP: There is a wrongful perception that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would like to dispose of the oil. Not at all. We want to exploit everything whether the oil sector or other sectors. If we’re talking for example about the oil sector, if you look at most of their analysis their expectation collectively is that demand for oil will increase up to 2030, the majority expect that the demand will grow, and the others expect that by the 2030 the demand for oil will start decreasing gradually till 2070. If you look at it from the other way, we’re now talking about the demand for oil, if we’re talking about the others in terms of the supply, you find that the supply is lost more quickly, or it declines more quickly than the reduced demand for oil.
CP: The US for example will not be an oil-producing country in 10 years. Today it produces like 10 million barrels, after 10 years it will barely produce 2 million barrels. In China they’re producing 4 billion barrels. In 2030 it will reach zero barrels or very insignificant. Russia is producing about 11 million barrels after 19 or 20 years it will only produce 1 million more or less barrels. So, the supply is declining much quicker than the decline of the demand for oil and the demand will increase as expected but the supply will reduce gradually, will be reduced gradually after five years. In Saudi later on the future it will increase its production to cover the need for oil. So, this is quite a promising part, but we should not rely on it. The other thing that’s related to the oil sector you know when you go to the down streaming your profitability increases.
CP: Now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is producing for oil derivatives and others around 800,000 barrels a year, whereas Aramco and Saudi Arabia will produce 3 billion barrels to manufacturing industries, different ones. So, this is another dimension that will achieve a lot of growth, 3 million barrels at least, the result will be double the row oil barrel that we produce and there is a capital investment that has been announced in the “Shareek” program that will constitute 40 or 50 percent from the partnership program. If you look at Aramco the opportunities, they have in achieving different industries based on their demands they have is huge. It’s the biggest leader of ships throughout the world. So, Aramco has the opportunity that if it were to produce a local content to produce ships and better it has started to do so. It will be one of the biggest industrial companies in the field of ships and this applies also to the pipes to the cables to the wires to the different parts. If Aramco were to reduce that to their local content so one of the objectives Aramco has now 70 percent of its capital expenditure will be related to a local content part for affiliates for Aramco and others for other Saudi companies. So even the oil sector the opportunities in it are huge opportunities that may cause a radical change enough not to do so optimizing the barrels not just to export it but to use it for industry. We want to increase the benefit we reap from the oil to manufacturing industries and others and then to produce other opportunities away from the oil sector to diversify our economy.
AAM: Regarding Aramco are there new opportunities are ongoing that will be announced?
CP: There will be something very soon, new submissions and now there will be selling for key international investors.
AAM: For how much?
CP: I don’t want to give any promises but there’s a discussion for acquisition of 1 percent of one of the pioneer companies for energy that will be a great deal to enhance the sales of Aramco in the country where this company, I cannot mention the name but it’s a huge company, if it will obtain 1 percent it will reinforce the industries of Aramco and it will promote that. There are other discussions on the way for buying different shares, part of the shares of Aramco will be transformed to the Public Investment Fund and others will also be for the Saudi market.
AAM: Going back to the Public Investment Fund is the fund considered a fierce competitor of the private sector?
CP: Not at all. I believe that the fund is in half for the private sector. The private sector is now living on the governmental capital expenditure. Now you have the funds to double it with 260 billion a year. So, the fund to build a real estate private sector and they would purchase the cement from the private sector, the furniture from the private sector, the accessories from the private sector, the transportation, the contractors. They’re all from the private sector. The private sector is benefiting from this amount of cash. The private sector should be happy that the fund spent 160 billion this year, from 90 billion last year, to 400 billion in 2030. This cash, 3 trillion of riyals that did not exist, but they will be there in the next 10 years. So, it’s a huge opportunity for the private sector.
AAM: You have launched the Shareek Program. There was a big interaction by the businessmen especially in the meeting that was broadcasted on different channels with the businessmen under your chairmanship, Your Highness. The businessmen, were they excluded from this strategy and the focus was on the foreign investors and now they have been reinstated into the formula?
CP: Not at all. The key element… Now if we look at the numbers, we’re expecting to be injected in Saudi we’re talking about 10 trillion riyals that would be injected by the government and the government development funds. That would be the annual budget 800 billion to a trillion. Almost a trillion a year if you look at the national development the industrial development fund the touristic one, the cultural. All the other funds would be injecting money about a trillion a year more or less, depending on the budget so these are like trillions … This we’ve always had. Now, the Public Investment Fund will be injecting 3 trillion rials. The Shareek Program is a program for the huge companies in Saudi Arabia. We were negotiating with like 30 companies to develop policies basically to not spend profits. And your profits … Transform them into capital spending and the shareholder will benefit from the growth income. Instead of 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent cash, we will take 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent, and increase in the growth of the company, and then he can sell the 5 percent share that he has made as a profit and obtain the cash that he has or maintain them and continue with the growth. So, we reached an agreement with 24 companies that they will commit fully to not spending or not distributing any dividends or they will do that partially and transfer the rest into capital spending of about 5 trillion riyals. These new 5 trillion are new from 24 Saudi companies that will increase in the future. All of this cash will create huge opportunities for the private sector.
AAM: Regarding the increased taxation wasn’t there another avenue than increasing taxes?
CP: Of course, you’re talking about the 15 percent. The GCC has agreed on the VAT to be 5 percent, between 5 to 10 percent the value added tax and it will be set so that it would be the lowest in the world. As you well know, in Saudi Arabia a third of its population are not Saudis, and with the huge economic growth, the population number grows as well as the number of foreigners, and in 2030, 2040 it might reach 50 percent foreigners, 50 percent Saudis. If we do not set VAT, especially with the opening of the tourism and targeting 600,000 tourists, there will be a lot of leakage of these subsidies. So, the 10 percent, the 5 to 10 percent will ensure that the cash that the foreigner benefits from what’s consumed. That will go back to their government and the government will spend it in education, health, infrastructure or even salaries and other things from the other aspects. The 15 percent, due to the pandemic and the economic challenges that the whole world has faced in 2020 they all still constitutes a big part of the income of Saudi Arabia, and we have seen that the oil prices have reached less than zero in 2020, so it was a big challenge. Either we change everything, or we change all our objectives, and we regress in terms … or go back on all our dreams to satisfy people for three or four years and then we just drop them, or we take actions that may be a bit harsh for a short bit of time and then things will pick up again. So, one of the measures was to avoid the canceling … the allowances or reduced salaries is to raise VAT to 15 percent. Of course, it’s hurtful measure. This is the last thing for me to hurt any Saudi citizens. I’m doing well. I have money, I was rich before I worked in the government. I have no interest in hurting anyone but what I want is for our homeland to grow and our citizens will be happy and prosper. But it’s my duty to build for them a long-term future that will continue to grow, not just to satisfy them for three or four years then exhaust all the saving opportunities of the country towards a better future. So, there was a number of decisions including the VAT. It’s a temporary decision. It will continue for a year, maximum five years, and then things will go back to what they were.
AAM: So, would it be reduced?
CP: Yes, we’re targeting it to be between 5 to 10 percent only till we reinstate our balance after the pandemic, so maybe after a year. So, depending on the economic situation or what may transpire but maximum five, minimum one year.
AAM: So, the private sector Your Highness fears surprises and shocks like sudden decision. Coronavirus was a surprise to the whole world.
CP: Nobody was expecting coronavirus and we’re trying to take the needed policies to reduce the impact of this pandemic and to maintain our opportunities for a sustainable growth. So, even China is now competing to be one of the biggest economies of the world. They’ve started in the seventies and they were suffering for twenty years in the seventies and eighties and then they started to actually prosper in the nineties. So do not expect that if you want to get rid of using oil as the biggest source of your revenue and then to create diversification of the economy sustainable growth, to reduce unemployment to a natural rate, and to increase incomes in the future, don’t expect that this can be done without taking some harsh measures. We didn’t say that it would take 20 years like in China, but we’re saying maybe a few years, a number of years. And if it weren’t for the pandemic things would’ve been much better. So, these measures will be just for a few years and things will be adjusted.
AAM: Increasing the taxes, the income tax… Is this an issue?
CP: No, there will not be any income tax at all in Saudi Arabia.
AAM: My question, Your Highness is the State abiding by its approach and policy to increase the income of citizens?
CP: Yes, this is a priority for us. One of my first priorities is to have a stable finance, a strong one that can be sustained or not be exhausted, otherwise we would be in quite a difficult situation where we cannot create growth. So, we can exhaust the savings of the investment fund and the Central Bank. I could use it in one day but is this sustainable? In five years, we would create even bigger problems. We would’ve exhausted all our finances and we’d not have the time or the capacities to create opportunities for promotion. First you need to maintain … The finance of the State needs to be strong and continue to fulfil the purpose forever. Second, it will be able to maintain an economy that can grow and can be promoted with tools away from the government as we have said. The Public Investment Fund leads development as of this year. Even the 24 key companies are injecting more than this fund and the government. If you take the capital spending 1.5 trillion of the government, if you take the capital funding and do this… you’ll get about 4.5 trillion, 24 companies are injecting 5 trillion. So, in 2030, this gap will start widening then the companies, after 2030 and after that, they would be injecting 7 trillion or 8 trillion riyals within the Saudi economy. The Public Investment Fund will be injecting 5 trillion. So, the leadership will shift to the other tools that will be sustainable that we’ll spend, make profit receive cash, respond again and so on.
AAM: Regarding the citizen income there was a question that is being repeated. Every time the oil prices increase the energy prices increase and the question is asked again, we are a rich country why do we increase the prices?
CP: We are an oil country, not a rich country. We’re an oil country. Iraq is an oil-producing country, Algeria. Are they rich countries? A rich country is compared with incomes, economic incomes, or revenues, compared to population size. We were very rich in the seventies and eighties when he had smaller population and a lot of oil. But now, we have 20 million and we are growing quickly. If we do not maintain our savings and distribute our tools every day, we will be transformed into a poorer country, but we need to overcome this impasse after the number of use and sustainable prosperity.
AAM: So that summary of what you have said Your Highness if you allow me, it’s adopted all of these measures in order not to face a disaster in order to attempt to benefit from the wasted opportunities of before?
CP: Yes, to avoid disasters to utilize opportunities and to provide opportunities for a better future than our predecessors.
AAM: With your permission we shall take a short break from this special encounter with his Highness.
AAM: Once more we welcome you to the second segment with his Highness Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Your Highness, so many huge new projects like NEOM, Qiddiya, Red Sea Project, ROSHN. I would like to ask in specific about this housing project ROSHN. Can you share some details about it?
CP: Certainly, one of the biggest challenges we have faced has been the need to increase housing ratios which we’ve seen huge demand on from citizens. We did indeed maintain low housing ratios compared to global averages that sit at 60 percent. Ours hovered at 47 percent. At a certain stage I was concerned while restructuring the position of the government and its tools, given challenges faced in the Ministry of Housing, that we would not be able to achieve any accomplishments within the short time that we had over the past four years. Where the Ministry of Housing could potentially fail or not achieve its goal due to the number of challenges it faced in terms of legal, structure, policies the Ministry itself, forces, leaders, etc.
CP: So, I wanted to ensure that we had a plan B to serve this aspect. That was one objective while another objective existed that I will mention shortly. We established the Public Investment Fund to launch ROSHN especially when we assessed the anticipated demand on housing units that may exceed four million housing units. We established ROSHN to target one million housing units for five years from launch with a very low profitability from 2.5 percent up to 3 percent so that there will be affordable units for citizens in the event that the Ministry of Housing could not achieve what is requested of it.
CP: The company was established and fortunately the Ministry of Housing succeeded in doing what was needed with other entities they were working with. And ROSHN objectives were adjusted to Vision 2030 to provide nearly one million housing units. And that was its first objective, the second objective relates to the notion that unfortunately more that 95 percent of real-estate developers are quite primitive in that that they could prepare and sell blueprints without not accounting for sanitation, utilities, electricity, or even connectivity.
CP: Citizens proceed with buying, then build their house, and start suffering with the process of requesting infrastructure services. There is no doubt that the Kingdom needs a very strong developer to raise the bar. So, the private sector can follow that level of real-estate development standards that are adopted internationally, representing ROSHN’s second objective. ROSHN will not build four million housing units and it will only develop 25 percent of the demand required in Saudi Arabia.
CP: However, no one will purchase private sector developments if they do not apply the same standards that are adopted at ROSHN. Once ROSHN’s objectives were amended, it marked about a 7 percent increase in housing projects. That was the objective: To raise and upgrade the standards. This idea isn’t new, it was raised during King Faisal’s time and at the beginning of King Khaled’s time, submitted by the Prince’s uncle Al Musaed bin Abdulrahman and it was faced by resistance by certain Ministers and officials to instead give those opportunities to the private sector and the idea was shut down.
CP: This had historic consequences in return and impacted the low level of services offered to housing and residential units. If this concept had been adopted, we would have had the biggest real estate companies in the world. However better late than never. So today, ROSHN is targeting real estate development in Saudi Arabia to meet part of the demand. One million units and 7 percent profit which isn’t significant.
AAM: So, what would be the advantage?
CP: The 6 to 7 percent will be in favor of the development of Saudi Arabia. For our investments abroad we target above 10 per cent but within Saudi we would accept 5 to 7 and sometimes even 4 percent on some projects.
AAM: What’s the advantage that I would have from ROSHN? What is the advantage I would receive from that unit?
CP: When you buy a house and unit for a reasonable cost compared to the other real estate developments, and ensure you get a water connection, sanitation, landscaping, tracks and all the services that you need you will have in your neighborhood. So, you would only leave your neighborhood to go to work or enjoy another location.
AAM: Your interest, Your Highness, in environment matters is memorable and has drawn attention whether inside the Kingdom or outside it. Some people even wonder why His Highness passes on economic opportunities like the Red Sea islands?
CP: I do not pass on them for environmental causes. The beauty of the Red Sea is its environment. When a tourist visits, he is here to enjoy the beautiful environment, a clean shore, clean water, vibrant marine life. If you destroy the environment, you destroy all the touristic opportunities. Tourism is based on services, activities, and archaeological or historical sites and environment. So, you would be destroying a main pillar for tourism.
CP: And that’s one aspect, the other thing that my generation and the older one knows is that when we were very young the number of sandstorms were 70 to 80 percent less than what we are suffering of today. This is very dangerous to our children and to our lives when several days of the year the dust we inhale impacts our health and costs our healthcare sector a considerable amount of money in the future. Hence, we want to reinstate the environment to what it was before.
CP: Also, plant coverage has dropped in the Kingdom nearly 70 percent of the past 50 years. So, one objective from Vision 2030 was to restore the plantation by 200 percent and set us back where we were. Over four years an increase of 40 percent was achieved, which has had quite the impact to reduce sandstorms and increase rainfall since plantation coverage increases oxygen which assists the clouds to produce rainfall, which results in good water levels and abundant rain.
CP: This is what that we have observed in the last two years, which was made possible through the policies drawn to achieve this. Going back again to strengthening the position of the state the government cannot achieve this without an aligned strategy among its entities, Minister of Interior, Environment, and many others, working to achieve these goals. The Ministry of Interior has established an environmental security industry to safeguard the environment and pass laws. To prevent logging. To regulate the pastures utilization and create experiences.
CP: These updates exposed experiences that connect different parts of the Kingdom such as Royal Commission for Riyadh’s experience in growing some wild trees. That cost less than 70 Riyal for each tree and they are irrigated only for the first three years. Once a month for the first year, once a quarter for the second year, and twice a year during the third. And then they can just live-in nature. This has created a new ambition, that if we are to set a certain amount every year.
AAM: How many trees do we need to plant to reach the 10 billion trees target?
CP: Of course, the budget is what drives whether we achieve this within 10 or 30 years, but this changes all the numbers when it comes to increasing our plant coverage. We could drive it to over 1000 percent depending on the budget to grow those 10 billion trees. The environmental impact is priceless to our coral reefs and shorelines. For forests in Southern Saudi and for greenery projects like gardens in Riyadh and so on, the impact is direct for tourism and on general wellbeing.
CP: We need to attract capitals and talents to Saudis. And we also need to maintain capitals and Saudi talent and offer a major pillar of wellbeing, being environment. Hence environment really does have a direct impact on all economic facets: tourism, wellbeing, attracting capitals, attracting talent.
AAM: Discussing tourism and environment brings the Red Sea Islands to mind. Are we discussing a new Maldives in Saudi?
CP: I don’t think any tourist enjoys going to copycat destination. We are supposed to provide something new. So, part of the work in the Red Sea Project was to question what is in our DNA that we want to reflect. By providing new themes, new services, a different experience in order to motivate tourists to come and view all of these different cultures that you have at the Red Sea area. So, the projects were distributed as “authentic” based on Hijazi architecture or from Tabouk or from Jizan, and others to “innovative” basing the design from inspirations of interpreting the form of the Red Sea Projects such as the project that’s been announced.
AAM: Going back to the subject I’ve mentioned about the achievements. A topic that concerns many is the issue of unemployment.
CP: It’s a ..
AAM: Your Royal Highness. Are you satisfied with unemployment figures?
CP: I don’t want any Saudi to be without a job. We are in the forefront … in Q4 of 2020 we sat at 12 percent now. This year we will break the 11 percent barrier, God willing, and I think that the Vision’s target of 7 percent will be achieved way before that, but this is not the only target. Once we achieve normal unemployment rates between 4 to 7 percent which is a normal rate, because we always have 4 to 6 percent people moving from one job to another. So, once we get to these targets we will want to work on the next step.
CP: Which is how many “good” jobs do we have? And how many “bad” jobs do we have? Today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we have only 50 percent “good” jobs.
AAM: 50 percent only?
CP: Yes. And the others are bad jobs.
AAM: What do we mean by good job and a bad job?
CP: A good job you eat, drink, you wear the clothes you want. You buy all the necessities, you have a house, you have a car.
CP: You have all the basic needs, and you have the ability to save, to spend on anything to lead a healthy life. That’s 50 percent, the other 50 percent are bad jobs. You eat, drink, you get your basic needs. You have a house, but you cannot save, you cannot grow your wealth, you cannot enjoy except very little. So, once we get to the normal rate of unemployment, between 4-7 percent, the next target will be to raise quality jobs from 50 percent to 80 percent in Saudi Arabia. You ask me when and what are the details? This will be announced once we get closer to the 7 percent target unemployment rate. Let’s stay with the 7 percent target, that’s an important idea in work quality. This means increasing the income of Saudi citizens one way or another because I don’t want to increase the income of citizens who already have high incomes. I want to do that, but that’s the main goal. People who make 20, 30, or 50 thousand riyals, I hope they will get higher incomes and be able to save.
CP: But my issue is with citizens who make 3, 5, or 7 thousand riyals, these are the ones I want to focus on because they make up 50 percent of bad jobs. We want to get to the 7 percent unemployment rate. And, according to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, we have 200,000 to 250,000 people getting into the job market each year and public sector jobs are limited. Can the market handle this influx? I can give you an example. When we talk about tourism sector, it will create three million jobs from now until 2030. One million jobs of these will be for Saudis while the other two million will be for expats due to different reasons, such as our lack of the necessary talent this sector needs. But once we create three million jobs, we can Saudize them in the future. There are also jobs in the industrial sector and so on. The important thing here is the number of jobs. Is unemployment increasing? No, it decreased. At the end of this year, we managed to decrease within five years of the Vision by 4 percent: From 10 to 14 percent. This means that 3 percent will be happen way before those 10 years. But I don’t want to give a specific number. And when we get to 7 percent, we will start working on the next step, which is improving jobs and job opportunities and increasing the income of the 50 percent holding poor jobs. You will not be able to improve jobs until you improve the working force,
AAM: So, the next question is about education. How can we improve education? I know there is something in the making, education-wise. Can you reveal it to us the main outlines of this?
CP: Naturally, when speaking about education, we have public and higher education, and we have societal education, for the society at large; is the society is positive, active, driven etc.? Is it equipped with all the technological means and can access information readily to learn effectively, etc.? So, when we talk about public education, 30 years ago … the main goal of the ministries of education was to provide information. You take math for example, 30 years ago, collecting information was a highly time-consuming endeavor, taking years. The government would collect information to give it to you. Now, however, we have open sources. So, what we are working on is to condense the size of information and give you the basic information you need, be it reading, writing, math, science, etc. and concentrate on skills for everything else, so that you’d possess the skills that would enable you to search for information, grow yourself and your abilities, plan for the future, etc. Naturally, we cannot do this overnight. The Human Capacity Development Program is about to be launched, and it’s going to address all these details and our journey in the 10 coming years. With regard to higher education, currently we have five Universities ranked among the best 500 universities worldwide according to various indicators. Our objective is to have three universities ranked among the best 200 universities worldwide. We might be working toward a very ambitious objective and we might not achieve it but coming even close would be great.
AAM: Which is?
CP: Having one university ranked among the best 10 universities worldwide, which is King Saud University. But even if it ranked 20 or 30 that would be extremely good, and this objective will be announced in the Riyadh city strategy. So, higher education is covered in this regard. And as I mentioned, the technology sector and the ease of access to information is already widely available and we have made great breakthroughs in this regard during the past 3 years and these leaps enabled the Saudi citizen to access all information very swiftly. However, the current level of our education isn’t bad at all.
AAM: It’s not bad?
CP: Indeed. Our current education produced you and me. I received scholastic and higher education in Saudi Arabia and that’s your case too and that’s the case of most of the leaders in the public and private sectors and other fields.
AAM: Your Highness, you have achieved a remarkable success in terms of managing the COVID-19 crisis, especially if we were to compare this with that of developed countries. My question, Your Highness, doesn’t tackle the COVID-19 crisis but it’s specifically about the health system to be exact, and more specifically, among the Vision programs there’s a new program which is called the Health Transformation Program. My first direct question is…Concerning health services, are they going to be paid services in the future?
CP: Our system of governance includes a very clear and explicit, and this law stipulates that health services are offered for free to every citizen as well as the education services, and this is a given. What we are working on is to transform health services, so that instead of funding public hospitals stretching over a wide geographical area and boasting a huge staff which is making the government unable to maintain the high quality of the health sector, we would transform a higher percentage of these to private sector and the non-profit sector, and I will give you an example of the non-profit sector. What we will be trying to motivate is that the government will start offering its civil servants insurance policies and the private sector will be forced, according to regulations, to avoid recruiting any new employees without offering them insurance policies, and this provides the employees the healthcare they need. And the employee would take that policy and go to the best healthcare choice. This will incur a high demand inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and this will motivate the private sector to expand its healthcare services and if the private sector is the better provider, it will attract the higher number of clients in the healthcare sector. As for the non-profit sector, we are currently working on an initiative which will soon be launched. Namely, transforming King Fahd Specialist Hospital into a non-profit hospital wholly owned by the government. This hospital will be funded with around 10 billion riyals from the state budget. It also earns about six billion riyals in revenues. But if you look at the statistics, you’d find that the duration of a patient’s stay there is twice as much as it is in regular hospitals.
AAM: So, people stay longer there?
CP: Someone supposed to stay for four days would spend eight in the Specialty Hospital.
CP: That doubles the capacity in the King Fahd Specialty Hospital, which means that the revenues would increase from six to 12 billion riyals, in addition to the government’s budget so we’re talking about a huge amount; around 22 billion riyals. Then we can develop more research and branches as well as more services in Riyadh, Jeddah, and other regions as well. All this would be non-profit. All these revenues would be reinvested back into the health system in Saudi Arabia. I have no doubt that after the program is launched, we will set the percentage of healthcare services offered by the private sector and the percentage offered by the non-profit sector and also set those percentages for the next 10 years.
AAM: I have two questions, Your Highness. Will public hospitals become privatized, or do they remain the same but become public companies?
CP: Some might remain the same and some might become privatized.
AAM: Alright, would each citizen have an insurance policy?
CP: We might not reach that target, but we are aiming to cover the largest number of people through the government’s contracts with its employees or the private sector with its own employees.
AAM: So, it is tied to the jobs themselves.
CP: Exactly. Today, through the health program we are announcing how many employees have insurance policies today and how many will have them in the next 10 years.
AAM: The city of Riyadh … Your Highness, you announced that you are going to increase the population of Riyadh from 15 to 20 million people. Thus, people directly responded complaining that Riyadh is already a crowded city How can we increase the population this way? And why would we want to do that in the first place?
CP: Today, 80 percent of the world’s economy relies on cities. In the next 10 or 20 years, 90 percent of the world’s economy will be based on cities. So, if we want to achieve development, we should do it in the cities because it is the biggest tool in your possession for creating job opportunities. Riyadh was very well planned by King Salman and it is the city with the best infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and it is one of the best cities in the Middle East. There might only be two or three similarly developed cities in the Middle East. This opens the door for the creation of many projects that would serve Saudi Arabia, be it in employment or economic growth, etc. You can see today that there are three million job opportunities in Riyadh. If the population reaches 20 million, then we need to create about six million additional jobs in Riyadh. Today, Riyadh constitutes half of the non-oil-based economy of Saudi Arabia. This means that, if we want to create more job opportunities and better development then we need to focus on Riyadh because it’s the biggest catalyst for this huge growth.
CP: To answer your question about Riyadh being a crowded city, Riyadh is a city that has millions of people. Cities with a population of over five million, and in the indices tackling such cities, and we will have The Royal Commission in the city of Riyadh announce these indices, Riyadh ranks first in the world in traffic management if you compare it to Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, or London. A one-hour car ride in Riyadh would last for five hours in Los Angeles. You would need three to four hours to make the same trip in New York. In Tokyo, you might need 10 hours. So, we can’t compare Riyadh that has about three million inhabitants to other cities that have one million inhabitants. We should compare it with cities that have more than five million inhabitants. But it is true that increasing the population in Riyadh to 25 million people is a challenge, but a part of Riyadh’s budget goes to develop transportation through new faster lines like the metro and mass-transit system and other services that would be announced in Riyadh’s strategy. This allows us to maintain our rank among the best 10 “million” cities concerning transportation.
AAM: Does that mean that focusing on Riyadh will be at the expenses of other cities?
CP: Not at all. First, Saudi Arabia is a unified country. Whether we’re talking about Riyadh Jeddah, Tabouk, Aseer, Jazan, or Sharqia. It is all one country. Today, we have a great spending ability as well as good investment capacity. We can direct both towards channels that would strengthen our economy and create the largest number of job opportunities. This would be to the country’s and citizen’s benefit. When we find an opportunity, we focus and work on it. Al Ula, for example, was very small and borderline barren, but it has some opportunities that would allow us to fund it more to create even better chances. We did many huge projects there based on the opportunities it presented. For example, Downtown Jeddah and other projects in Jeddah. Also, Makkah has huge opportunities, Madinah, the Eastern Region also has industrial opportunities, also among the important ones is King Salman’s Industrial City of in the Eastern region. Also, Tabuk has three huge projects, NEOM, The Red Sea Project, Amaala, Aseer; you’re talking about a huge Saudi project, and we’re about to launch the Aseer Strategy which has over 50 billion in funding over the next 10 years to bolster touristic opportunities. And many other opportunities all over the Kingdom. We go to the opportunity to finance it to achieve the desired positive return and yield for both the citizens and the kingdom.
AAM: So, six million jobs in Riyadh? But there is no random development… So, six million jobs, if we do this outside of Riyadh, will they be six or less?
CP: You cannot do it outside Riyadh to begin with; it’s a city with seven million people, it has extremely high growth, it very strong infrastructure, and it represents almost half of the Saudi economy. It is where you can benefit six million people. But if I go to NEOM, I cannot create more than one million jobs there or in other regions. So, this is based on the opportunity that I have; I utilize it and translate it into economic growth and job creation.
AAM: Your Highness, with your permission, we will take another short break. Stay with us as we return after the break to continue this a special interview with His Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
AAM: Welcome again to this special interview with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Your Royal Highness, you spoke previously about moderation. What is the concept of moderation in your opinion?
CP: Of course, this is a broad term. All Muslim jurists and scholars have been talking about the concept of moderation for over a thousand years. So, I do not think I am in a position to clarify this concept, as much as I can … abide by the Saudi constitution, which is the Quran, the Sunnah, and our basic governance system and to implement it fully in a broad sense that is inclusive of everybody.
AAM: This leads me to another question, namely the space Sharia occupies in the State. Meaning, on the level of the constitution, the judiciary, the public space, and on the level of freedoms of individuals.
CP: As I said earlier, our constitution is the Quran, has been, still is, and will continue to be so forever. And our basic system of governance stipulates this very clearly. We, as a government, or the Shura Council as a legislator, or the King as a reference for the three authorities, we are bound to implement the Quran in some form or another. But in social and personal affairs, we are only obliged to implement stipulations that are clearly stated in the Quran. So, I cannot enforce a Sharia punishment without a clear Quranic stipulation or an explicit stipulation from the Sunnah. When I talk about an explicit stipulation from the Sunnah, most hadith writers classify hadith based on their own typology, like Bukhari, Muslim and others, into correct hadith or weak hadith. But there is another classification which is more important, namely whether a tradition or hadith has been narrated by many people or a single narrator, and this is a main reference for jurisprudence for deducing regulations, Sharia-wise.
CP: So, when we talk about a Mutawater hadith, i.e., narrated and handed down from one group to another group to another starting with the Prophet, PBUH, these hadiths are very few in number, but they are strong in terms of veracity, and their interpretations vary based on the time and place they were revealed and how the hadith was understood at the time. But when we talk about Ahad hadiths, which is handed down from a single person to another starting with the Prophet PBUH, or from a group to a group to a single individual then another group etc. starting with the Prophet PBUH, so that there’s and individual in the chain. This is called ahad hadith. And this is broken down into many classifications, such as correct, weak, or good hadith. And this type of hadith, the ahad, is not as compelling as the mutawater hadiths; the ones narrated by a chain of groups, unless paired with clear Quranic stipulations and a clear mundane or worldly good to be had, especially if it’s a correct ahad hadith.
CP: And this is also a small portion of the body of hadith. While a “khabar” is a hadith handed down from a single person to another single person etc. to an unknown source, starting with the Prophet PBUH, or from a group to a group, then a person to another person, and so on, starting with the Prophet PBUH, so that there’s a missing link. This represents the majority of hadith and this type of hadith is unreliable whatsoever, in the sense that its veracity is not established and that it isn’t binding. And in the biography of the Prophet PBUH, when the hadith was first recorded the Prophet PBUH ordered those records to be burnt and forbade the writing of hadith, and that should apply even more so to “khabar” hadiths so that people are not obliged to implement them from a Sharia perspective, since they also might be used as ammunition to dispute God Almighty’s power to produce teachings that are fit for every time and place.
CP: Hence, the government, where Sharia is concerned, has to implement Quran regulations and teachings in mutawater hadiths, and to look into the veracity and reliability of ahad hadiths, and to disregard “khabar” hadiths entirely, unless if a clear benefit is derived from it for humanity. So, there should be no punishment related to a religious matter except when there is clear Quranic stipulation, and this penalty will be implemented based on the way that the Prophet PBUH applied it. So, let me give you an example: Adultery. The unmarried adulterer is flogged, the married adulterer is killed. And this is a clear stipulation, but when the woman adulterer came to the Prophet PBUH and she told the Prophet PBUF that she had committed adultery, he delayed judgment several times. She eventually insisted and then he told her to go and check if she was pregnant, and then she came back to him and the same scenario was repeated. She came back to him and he told her to come back after she’d weaned the baby. She could have not returned, but he did not ask about her name or who she was.
CP: So, to take a Quranic stipulation and implement it in manner other than the manner followed by the Prophet PBUH and look for the person to prove a certain charge against them, whereas the Prophet PBUH was approached by the perpetrator confessing her crime and yet he treated her in that manner, then that is not what God has ordained.
CP: And to implement a penalty on the pretext that it is a Sharia penalty while there is no stipulation for such a penalty in the Quran or in the mutawater hadith, then this is also a falsification of the Sharia. When God Almighty wanted us to punish a certain religious crime, He stipulated this clearly, and when He prohibited a deed and promised punishment in the hereafter for doing it. He did not ask us as humans to penalize that deed, and He left the individual the choice knowing that there would be a day of reckoning, and in the end God is Merciful, All forgiving except in the case of polytheism. So, this is the correct approach for the implementation of the Quran and the Sunnah based on our constitution and system of governance.
AAM: Do you, Your Highness, follow a certain school of thought, like the school of Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab? Would it be the one interpreting those texts?
CP: When we commit ourselves to following a certain school or scholar, this means we are deifying human beings. God Almighty did not put a barrier between Himself and people. He revealed the Quran and the Prophet PBUH implemented it and the space for interpretation is open permanently.
CP: If Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulwahhab were with us today and he found us committed blindly to his texts and closing our minds to interpretation and jurisprudence while deifying and sanctifying him he would be the first to object to this. There are no fixed schools of thought and there is no infallible person. We should engage in continuous interpretation of Quranic texts and the same goes for the sunnah of the Prophet PBUH, and all fatwas should be based on the time, place, and mindset in which they are issued. For example, 100 years ago, when a scholar would issue a certain fatwah not knowing that the Earth was round and not knowing about continents or technology, etc. that fatwah would have been based on the then available inputs and information and their understanding of the Quran and Sunnah, but these things change over time and are different right now.
CP: So, ultimately our reference is the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH, as I said.
AAM: Clear. With regard to personal status law…Your Highness decided that that judicial code was not suitable for us. Why did you reject that judicial code and adopted the four systems including the personal status law?
CP: One can’t go and reinvent the wheel. The world follows clear laws that regulate the lives of people. Our role is to make sure all the laws passed in Saudi Arabia reflect the following: One, that they do not violate the Quran and the Sunnah; the Quran being our constitution, that they do not contradict our interests, that they preserve the security and interests of citizens, and that they help in the development and prosperity of the country. So, laws are passed based on this procedure according to international conventions. If you want tourists to come here… If you aim to attract 100 million tourists to create three million jobs, and you say that you are following something new other than common laws and international norms, then those tourists will not come to you. If you want to double foreign investments, as if we have done, from five million to 17 million, and you tell investors to invest in your country that is running on an unknown system that their lawyers do not know how to navigate nor know how those regulations are applied and enforced, then those investors will just cut their losses and not invest all together. When you want to attract certain talents and human resources to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and say that you have a new invention for enacting laws, no one will come to you. So, you will have to adopt the laws that are internationally recognized based on your constitution, the Quran, and your interests and objectives and based on the preservation of the security and interests of the citizen and with the development and prosperity of the country in mind.
AAM: The vision embodies the meaning of opening up to the world. Your Highness, how do you view the concerns, apprehensions, resistance, and fears over identity in some segments of society regarding such globalization seen in tourism, entertainment, etc.
CP: If your identity cannot withstand the diversity of the world, it means your identity is weak and you need to do without it. And if your identity is robust and authentic and you can grow and develop it, and promote its positive sides, then you will have preserved and strengthened your identity. The proof is the way we dress and our traditions and our culture and heritage, and most importantly, our Islamic heritage, all of these constitute a big part of our identity that we develop over time and continue to foster to turn it into a world-shaping force. I believe that our identity is very strong, and we are proud of it. It is mainly driven by you, me, and every citizen in Saudi Arabia and the movement taking place in Saudi Arabic and based on our Saudi identity, which is derived from our Islamic, Arabic, and historical culture and heritage.
AAM: Could you please tell us more about the campaign to neutralize extremist discourse?
CP: It’s going to be hard to choose where to start from, but… extremism in all things is wrong, and our Prophet PBUH talked in one of his hadiths about a day when extremists will surface and he ordered them killed when they do so. “Do not exercise extremism in your religion. Many nations have perished before you” “because they were extremists in their religions.” Being an extremist in anything, whether in religion or our culture or our Arabhood, is a serious matter based on our Prophet’s PBUH teachings, life experience and from the history we read.
AAM: The imprisonment that was imposed on a group of extremists, did you neutralize a potential risk or were they involved in certain issues?
CP: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a main target for extremist projects and terrorist acts in the world. If I were Osama Bin Laden and I wanted to spread my extremist thoughts throughout the world, especially amongst Muslims, where would I start? I will start in the state where the holy shrines of the Muslims are, where all the pilgrims come and to where all Muslims look five times a day. If I were to spread my project it will automatically spread throughout the world, so every extremist where they are thinking where to start to target, they will think of Saudi Arabia. At a certain time, it was a very difficult phase, let’s say from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, we had the Arabian project or other socialist and communist projects alongside other projects in the area. At that time, many extremist groups were given the opportunity to enter one way or the other into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to access different locations, whether in the state or the economy. This has resulted in terrible repercussions and we have witnessed its consequences in the previous years. Now, we cannot grow, we cannot attract capitals, we cannot have tourism, we cannot progress with such extremist thinking in Saudi Arabia. If you want millions of jobs, if you want unemployment to decline, if you want the economy to grow, if you want your income to improve, you must eradicate these projects for the other interest. Not to mention that these people should not be representing our religion, nor our divine principles in any way, shape or form. So, no doubt this constitutes a crime that has resulted in the creation of terrorist groups that have killed people throughout the world, killed Saudis, and wasted so many economic opportunities. This is a criminal act, criminalized based on the laws in Saudi Arabia. So, any person that adopts an extremist approach, even if he was not a terrorist, is a criminal and will face the full force of the law.
AAM: What is your philosophy, Your Highness, regarding the foreign policy?
CP: The interests for Saudi Arabia.
AAM: This is your philosophy?
CP: Indubitably. Our foreign policy is based on our interests and security.
AAM: What about influence? What does influence mean in policy?
CP: Influence means the power influence to achieve an interest. For example, when you talk about the Public Investment Fund. When you have influence throughout the world, good reputation throughout the world, and you’re considered catalyst for different sectors throughout the world, then the world would be open to the investment of our fund, which, in turn, will attract new opportunities for us to invest in. So many of the investments we received is because of the influence of our public relations that has been established at the outset of our Vision. I’m talking about the Uber investment for example. It was not the fund that looked for it; they came to us. Thus, creating the influence in different aspects to achieve an interest for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is doubtlessly something needed without contradicting the UN Charter and the laws of other countries.
AAM: Saudi Arabia and the US, after the new administration had arrived in the White House, were there any discord between these two allies? Did the White House turn its back to Riyadh?
CP: There is no such thing as a completely 100 percent agreement between two countries, even with the Gulf countries, the closest ones. There usually are some kind of differences, which is something you’d find in the same house, where brothers don’t agree 100 percent on everything. With varying US administrations, of course, the margin of difference may increase or decrease, but we are in agreement with the Biden administration on more than 90 percent of Saudi-US interests, and we hope to enhance it one way or another. The last of which was our adherence to the new group that has important objectives regarding clean energy and preserving the environment. Saudi Arabia was one of the countries that joined the US in this regard, and they were less than 10 countries. So, we always aim to maintain our interests. And for the things we have some differences with them, which make up less than 10 percent, we try to find solutions and reach an understanding to overcome them, neutralizing their risks on both countries while upholding our interests. The US is certainly a strategic ally to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been our ally for more than 80 years, which had quite a big impact on both the Kingdom. and the US. So, you could imagine that if the 10 million oil barrels, which were very cheap, costing $3-6, were contracted to be bought from the UK, the US wouldn’t be in its current situation today.
AAM: So, Saudi Arabia has contributed to strengthening the US?
CP: Indeed. If this was a contract with the UK, things would be different for the US today. Also, from our side, if this contract was signed with the UK, we would’ve been under even more pressure. The UK was colonizing many countries in the area, delineating their borders and interfering in our general affairs. We would’ve faced more pressure in this regard but signing a contract with the US made the Kingdom a solid foundation for US interests, which pushed the UK to reconsider putting any pressure on it. Still, the world is huge, and no two countries are the same. The US used to comprise 50 percent of the world economy in the 1950s, whereas today, it only comprises 20 percent of the world economy. Now, the whole world has started to regain its balance after the two world wars. We’re working on maintaining our relations with our strategic partners in the region, starting with the Gulf countries, Arab countries, and Middle Eastern countries. We’re also working on strengthening our alliances with our partners throughout the world; the US, the UK, France, Europe, and other countries, as well as seeking to create new partnerships with everyone else, such as Russia, India, China, Latin America, African countries, and others.
CP: This is all to serve the interests of Saudi Arabia without undermining any other country. China announced today that Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner, then India announced the same, followed by Russia. However, we are still a strategic partner for the US as well. And so, we’re strengthening our relations with everyone to serve our interests, their interests, and the international interests. At the end of the day, every country has its choice. If we could work with them to serve everyone’s interests, that would be great. Otherwise, there are a lot of other options out there.
AAM: The issue of the 10 percent, Your Highness, is it just a difference of opinions, or is the US exerting pressure on the Kingdom?
CP: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not allow for any interference in its internal affairs. The UN Charter explicitly stipulates that countries have full sovereignty and complete independence. And the problem with the world that led to the two world wars was, in a nutshell, intervening in the affairs of other countries. This charter was created to address a big and long-standing crisis, which started with colonialism up until WWI and WWII. The UN Charter came to solve this issue. One of the most important pillars of this Charter was respecting the sovereignty of states and prohibiting any intervention in their internal affairs. So, if any country interferes in the internal affairs of another country, it means it did violate the Charter that has maintained the peace of the world and its stability and security after WWII, ensuring its prosperity in the past 50 to 60 years that we currently enjoy. It was all thanks to this Charter, which makes undermining it something completely unacceptable because it’s the main motivation of everything that we are enjoying in the world. This is not an idea we accept in any way. We aim to reinforce our interests and avoid any differences.
AAM: What about the relations with Iran, Your Highness? Is there any effort to reach a settlement on the unresolved issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
CP: At the end of the day, Iran is a neighboring country. All what we ask for is to have a good and distinguished relationship with Iran. We do not want the situation with Iran to be difficult. On the contrary, we want it to prosper and grow as we have Saudi interests in Iran, and they have Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, which is to drive prosperity and growth in the region and the entire world. The problem that we have lies with certain negative behaviors they have, whether in terms of their nuclear program, their support of illegal militias in some countries in the region, or their ballistic missile program. We are working now with our partners in the region and the world to find solutions for these problems. We really hope we would overcome them and build a good and positive relationship with Iran that would benefit all parties.
AAM: We cannot talk about Iran without talking about Yemen. Saudi Arabia has put forward the initiative and it was rejected, one way or the other. So, what is the future of Yemen now?
CP: As you well know, this is not the first crisis that happens between Yemen and Saudi Arabia; there was one during the reign of King Abdulaziz, which was resolved. Then there was another one in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was resolved in the 1990s, which was followed by yet a third crisis in 2009. However, we were able to resolve it quickly before the last crisis happened when the Houthis started expanding as of 2014 until they reached Sanaa at the beginning of 2015, when they turned against the legitimate government of Yemen. This is illegal in Yemen and in the eyes of the world. No country would accept to have militias at their borders, or an armed group that operates outside of the law at its borders, this is not acceptable, neither for Saudi Arabia nor for the countries of the region, and it’s also unacceptable in Yemen. We have seen the repercussions of this on Yemen. We really hope that the Houthis will sit with all other Yemeni parties at the negotiations table to reach solutions that guarantee everyone’s rights, and to also safeguard the interests of all the countries in the region. We still have our offer open to ceasefire and provide economic support and everything they need as long as Houthis agree to a ceasefire and sitting on the negotiating table.
AAM: Can the Houthis decide themselves or would Tehran be the one to decide?
CP: Must we first solve other issue, like the nuclear program, before they agree to sit with us? There is no doubt that the Houthis have strong relations with the Iranian regime, but the Houthis are Yemeni at the end of the day, and they have the Arab and Yemeni instinct that we hope will be even more revived so that they can prioritize their own interests and the interests of their homeland.
AAM: Your Highness, what will happen after 2030?
CP: There will be 2040.
AAM: So, ongoing planning.
CP: No doubt. 2030 places us in a very advanced position in the world, but 2040 will be the real competitive stage at the world level.
AAM: What is the greatest thing that Saudi Arabia has to enable its success?
CP: The Saudi citizens.
AAM: The Saudi citizens?
CP: Without our citizens, there is no doubt that we would not have been able to achieve anything that we have achieved. If they were unconvinced of what we are doing, if they were not ready to shoulder the different difficulties, if they were unwilling to be part of this work, whether as civil servants, ministers, businessmen, private sector employees, or any citizen doing any work, all of our planning would’ve amounted to nothing, it’d simply would’ve have been just some ink on pieces of paper.
AAM: What are you afraid of, Your Highness?
CP: I believe that the term “fear” does not exist in any Saudi dictionary because Saudis fear nothing.
AAM: It doesn’t exist?
CP: I don’t believe so. We worry, yes, we feel preoccupied, we endeavor to overcome these worries with solutions, but I do not think “fear” is in our dictionary.
AAM: What is the most important message, Your Highness, that you would like to convey to your people?
CP: To continue. We have made great achievements in the last 4 years. We want to even achieve more by 2025. And from one prosperity to the other.
AAM: Thank you very much, Your Highness, for this interview. Thank you to you as well, dear viewers, and please convey what His Highness MiB has said that our constitution is the Qur’an.