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Oman & Saudi Arabia & their visions of transformations

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Recent visit of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said of Sultanate of Oman to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opening a new era in the bilateral relations of the two brotherly neighbors that could be far reaching than just their own physical boundaries. During the visit, the Sultan was greeted with the ceremonial splendor by the Saudi King Salman as well as the Crown Prince MBS, in addition to the other important cabinet and the Royal family members. During the historic visit, the leaders discussed, besides the geopolitical and regional challenges, their resolves for closer cooperation in socio-economic, energy, technology, trade, maritime, logistics and digitization. These bilateral cooperation areas are the landmarks of the current Sultan’s strategic vision and are slightly different than his predecessor, the late Sultan Qaboos who ruled Oman for about five decades (July 23, 1970-January 10, 2020) by transforming it into a modern and thriving country of the region. During all this period, Sultan Qaboos maintained friendly and mutually respectable relations with every nation while keeping Oman neutral in most of the regional and international conflicts by offering mediation to the parties.
Under the leadership of the Sultan Haitham, Oman’s strategic decision to working more closely with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia though seems aslight shift from its past policybut it is consistent with the emergence of new geopolitical landscape in the global arena. Also, it is more inline with the current conditions at home, in the region, and is vital for the post pandemic economic recovery and sustainability.
Oman and Saudi Arabia, both have an extraordinarily rich history and share many values, customs and traditions that are the foundations for expanding and solidifying their brotherly relationships. Both countries are blessed with abundance of oil and gas reserves and their economies are also heavily dependent on the revenues derived from these natural resources. The targeted cooperation will help to transform their traditional conservative societies into progressive, resilient, vibrant, inclusive, educated, technology savvy, robust, and prosperous nations. Incidentally, the transformation blueprints with specific projects and their milestones have been very well defined independently by each of them in their own visions, namely Saudi Vision 2030 and Omani Vision 2040.
Like most of the oil producing countries, OPEC as well as the non-OPEC, in the recent past have experienced significant declines in their revenues. This has been associated mostly due to entry of the new sources of oil, like the Shale-oil from the USA (besides the COVID-19 related current economic meltdown), which has destroyed the existing dynamics of the supply and demand of oil that has existed for many decades. At the same time, even though the world population is growing, and more people are entering into higher standard of living (middle class) segment but at the same time, fuel efficiency, energy conservation, and the renewables (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) are competing against and successfully replacing the fossil fuels in many traditional applications. This in turn is reducing the oil demand globally even under robust industrial activities and higher production rates than before. With the Paris agreement drive for reaching to carbon neutral by 2050, the automotive industry is transforming rapidly away from the traditional internal combustionengines (ICE) into electricity-based vehicles (EV). Government incentives, automotive companies’ commitments, and consumers strong desires to play their part in reducing the global warming through the reduction of the health affecting pollutants and the greenhouse gases emissions is accelerating the adoption of the EV globally.
With this backdrop, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, both through their own strategic visions have embarked to diversify their economies by reducing their heavy dependency on the fossil fuels (oil and gas). Not only they are accelerating building their downstream infrastructure based on oil for value addition but are also heavily investing in the state-of-the-art technologies (renewable energy sources, health service industries, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, automated factories for light and semi-heavy industries, aviation & airspace, satellite technology, etc. to name a few) through the path of the digitization. They are getting their citizens ready to embrace the digital revolution as it is unfoldingright in front of our own eyes. In preparation to accommodate andto benefit from the digital revolution, countries are building new modern cities from ground-up that will be fully interconnected in their own domains, self-sufficient and self-sustaining in their operations for everything, from the basic necessities of life to power generation, transportation, logistics, entertainment, tourism, education, health, financing, commerce, investments (digital currency/blockchain), etc. These visions are attracting a lot of foreign direct investments (FDIs) in both countries.
Saudi Vision-2030 was initiated in 2015 by the Crown Prince MBS for building a brand-new metropolis modern mega city named NEOMfrom ground up,located in the north-west of the KSA. It stretches vast barren areas of deserts and mountains,and its development was initially earmarked $50 billion.
Omani Vision 2040 was conceived by the late Sultan Qaboos in 2019 as an extension of the vision 2020 and was spearheaded by the current Sultan Haitham when he was Minister of Heritage and Culture. The main focus of the Omani vision is to revamp its current infrastructure and resources (particularly the manpower), to upgrade its stature on the global stage through empowering its citizens with advanced education, cutting edge technologies, and creating opportunities, and environment to excel them that will help to upgrade Oman’s standing in the ranks and files of the developed nations. Other major undertaking under the vision is its GDP growth through economic diversification that will facilitate improving prosperity, quality of life, creation of higher paying jobs and in turn translating into improved standard of livingfor all. Under the vision, the goal is to make Oman’s GDP less dependent on oil & gas by accelerating developments of sustainable& resilient sources of its economy. Currently,Oman is generating 40% of its GDP from oil & gas commodities and under the vision, the target is to reduce it to about 8%, and by 2040,more than 90% of its GDP will be generated from the non-oil products.Additionally, another ambitious target is to reduce its carbon footprint by reducing its domestic energy use from the fossil fuels.Under the vision, 35-39% of the energy for the domestic consumption will be coming from the renewable sources.Though these sound overly ambitious goals, particularly under the current Covid-19 pandemic conditions!But with the economic revival, the progress made moving forward will help to catching up with the lost time for meeting the target timelines. Since the Sultan was spearheading this project since its inception, he is fully committed with all the resources needed for its success.
Saudi Vision2030 has already passed its infancy stage of the first five years and shows great progress in its journey toward reaching its goals. Early this year, the Crown Prince MBS highlighted the milestones of the vision in his briefings. According to the briefings, the vision has completed many of its projects ahead of their timelines and it will not be surprising if the entire vision will be completed ahead of the 2030 target. The outstanding progress of the visions clearly demonstrate that these projects are NOT just the aspirations but are the REALITIES and living examples for others to follow. The blueprints of the Vision 2030 will greatly help others also in playing their part in making life on the planet earth more satisfying, vibrant, thriving and environmentally more sustainable, where human and nature, both will coexist in harmony, without depleting each other. These aspirations supported by the digital technologies and commitments by the decision makers will help in creating SMART CITIES that will provide sustainable-vibrant lifestyles with outstanding quality of life. All this will be accessible to everyone in the not too long distance in the future andwhen it happens, it will be like dreams come true, that previously existed only in the Sci-fi movies.