Saudi Arabia is popularly known as a hard-line state. But, the ruling Al Saud family wants to change the image of the country. So, the West Asian nation has decided to return to the ‘moderate’ stand, as far as the concept of Islam is concerned. The ruling family is ready to change not only the social sectors, but also the national economy.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tried to attract investors during a recent commercial conference in Riyadh. His attempt was successful, as the crown prince convinced investors, as well as the global community. He hinted that the Saudi government would soon adopt a new ‘liberal policy’. “Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979. We want to go back to where we were, the moderate Islam that’s open to all religions. We want to live a normal life…..coexist and contribute to the world. We will end extremism very soon. We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today,” Salman stressed while addressing the ‘Future Investment Initiative’ conference. The audience welcomed the crown prince’s announcement with clapping that continued for two minutes.

Salman was appointed as Crown Prince by his father in 2015. Since then, he has been trying hard to restore the image of his country. He also adopted a programme, named ‘Vision 2030’, to revive the Saudi economy. On the basis of the programme, a new city will be built on the coast of the Red Sea. Apart from implementing economic reform programmes, the 32-year-old Salman is also trying his best to ensure the overall development of the country.

Experts opine that although it is easier to implement economic reform programmes, to change the social sector will be a difficult job for the young prince. First of all, the Royal Family receives a strong support from the hardliners. So, the al-Saud family has never taken any action against the radicals. Now, it will be really tough for the Saudi government to tackle the hardliners, said Kamran Bokhari. Bokhari, the senior analyst with ‘Geopolitical Futures’ intelligence firm and a senior fellow with the Centre for Global Policy, explained: “The Saudis will have to deal with some pushback – both from those who oppose the reforms and from those who don’t think they go far enough. They also have to contend with the most radical element of society: jihadists.”

He said: “There is considerable risk that some of the religious and tribal elites in Saudi Arabia will align with jihadists in the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Even if the majority of conservatives do not support the jihadists, the ideological overlap along with a loss of political power and influence will create enough space for Islamist militants to exploit. This could lead to social unrest and even violence.”

Others have termed the crown prince’s announcement as “surprising”. Rami Khouri, the senior fellow and Adjunct Professor at American University of Beirut, insisted: “Salman is doing this to give a new face of Saudi Arabia aimed at the Western world, primarily, dazzling them with all the buttons that they want to hear pushed about entrepreneurship, liberalism, moderate Islam.”

Meanwhile, the global community is ready to welcome a ‘liberal’ Saudi Arabia.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]