Saudi Arabia’s "Manifesto For Change" Exactly What You'd Expect

Fatimah Mazhar
A report exclusively given to The Daily Telegraph by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aides suggests that Saudi Arabia is planning a major image overhaul.

Saudi Arabia

It appears rumors of internal rifts in Saudi Arabian politics and an imminent coup have prompted the urgency of a major image overhaul in the ruling family.

However, it’s going to be as disappointing as one can imagine.

In what is being billed an “unprecedented step,” top advisers of the Saudi royal family released a document — a “manifesto for change” — that addresses issues long ignored by the conservative Islamic kingdom, despite widespread criticism from the West.

So what exactly is Saudi Arabia planning to change about itself?

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Well, the government no longer wants to rely on oil for revenue.

“The advisers say that 80-85 percent of government income is provided by oil revenues, describing this as a ‘big dilemma’ that has proved hard to tackle because the high price of oil created a form of ‘anesthesia.’ They estimate that more than 30 percent of the budget is wasted,” the Telegraph reports.

As the country is currently going through the “gravest fiscal crisis” in years because of low oil prices, Saudi Arabia is mulling borrowing money from local and international creditors for the first time in history.

“The new plan envisages cutting waste and increasing spending on infrastructure to ‘diversify sources of income,’” the newspaper adds.

The proposal further talks about introducing changes in women’s rights pertaining to education while admitting Saudi Arabia should have been more open on matters concerning women.

“We have come a long way and cannot just underestimate efforts made in the last few years in enhancing the role of women in society and give them the rights they deserve,” the document states.

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As game-changing as the manifesto might sound and appear at a glance, it honestly isn’t.

There are plans for opening doors for international human rights organizations and committees but there’s no indication whatsoever of flexibility in law when it comes to democratic reform or crackdown on human rights.

For instance, Saudi authorities are still defending the decision to crucify Ali Mohamed Al Nimr who was arrested in February 2012 as a teenager following the wave of anti-government protests in Qatif.

“We have all the rights to maintain safety and security of our citizens and we cannot understand the demands to make it go unpunished,” the statement reads.

This essentially means freedom of speech and movement will still remain a huge problem even if an image overhaul takes place.

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Moreover, while there are regrets of not allowing women enough rights in the manifesto, the female population of Saudi Arabia will still be subject to restrictions which have attracted international criticism, such as getting permission from a male “guardian” before traveling, not being permitted to drive and roaming in public without a headscarf or proper Islamic apparel.

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It's pretty clear that Saudi Arabia’s “manifesto for change” might bring about some noteworthy reforms in the country’s economic policies, however, hot-button issues like women’s rights, free speech and executions will remain a point of concern.