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Daily Brief: Saudi Arabia Presents Plan to Shift Kingdom From Oil Dependency

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April 26, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Saudi Arabia Presents Plan to Shift Kingdom From Oil Dependency

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced an economic reform plan to diversify the Saudi economy over the next 14 years (Al Jazeera). The prince presented a plan to develop a Saudi services-based economy, boosting non-oil exports (FT) from 16 percent to 50 percent by 2030, saying he wanted the kingdom to "live without oil by 2020." The "Vision 2030" plan involves a green-card system for expatriates to invest in the country, increasing the supply of affordable housing, and selling shares in the oil giant Saudi Aramco to set up a wealth fund. The prince also discussed women's participation in the workforce and said he hoped for "positive changes in future" regarding the ban on women driving (Saudi Gazette).


"With a pledge to end Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil in a mere four years, Mohammed bin Salman, the 30-year-old deputy crown prince, is attempting nothing less than a transformation of the conservative kingdom. The overarching aims of his 'vision' for 2030 — to slash wasteful government spending, develop the non-oil economy and boost private sector job creation — are the right ones. Yet Saudi rulers have talked of diversification for decades and failed to deliver it. The question is whether MbS, as the powerful son of King Salman has become known, stands a better chance of overcoming resistance from the bureaucracy, rivals for power within the royal family and ultra-conservative clerics," writes the Financial Times.

"The indolence of a society brought up to expect that oil riches will be lavished upon them is another hurdle. For years efforts to end the kingdom’s unhealthy addiction to oil have run up against a wall of apathy. As one Saudi commentator puts it, 'it’s been like a father telling his 40-year-old son that it’s time to go out and get a job.' Prince Muhammad’s youth in a country used to gerontocratic rulers makes it easier for him to motivate young people, and social media give him better access to the pulse of the country. But with oil revenues weak and unemployment at 11.6%, the chances of disillusionment are strong," writes the Economist.

"It’s hard to read about how Saudi Arabia’s rulers are handling the collapse of oil prices without recalling the end of the Soviet Union. Every petro-state has to ponder this precedent, but for the Saudis the parallels must be unnerving. Consider: Their economy is inefficient and undiversified, based on irrational pricing and vast subsidies. There’s no modern taxation system; money just sloshes around, Soviet-style, on the basis of insider connections. There are no mechanisms of meaningful political representation, and after years of senescent leadership a new generation is clamoring to take over. Growing ethnic divisions and the military’s huge share of the economy round out the picture. To all this, add a sharp drop in export earnings, and it’s no surprise that people worry about systemic failure," CFR's Stephen Sestanovich writes in the Wall Street Journal.


Mitsubishi Admits Flawed Fuel Economy Testing Since 1991

The Japanese automaker, which revealed last week that it had engaged in widespread falsification of fuel economy data, admitted to using improper testing methods since at least 1991 (WSJ). As many as two million vehicles may have used noncompliant testing methods, according to a report (Japan Times).

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: The country's supreme court ruled that Australia's use of an offshore detention facility to process asylum seekers was "unconstitutional and illegal" (BBC). The court ruled that both governments must "take all steps necessary to cease and prevent" the ongoing rights violations at the facility on the island of Manus (Sydney Morning Herald).


Bangladeshi al-Qaeda Branch Claims Murder of LGBT Magazine Editor

In a Twitter message (AP), Ansar-al Islam claimed responsibility for a Monday attack that killed a magazine editor, who was also a former USAID employee, and a friend in his home.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick examines Bangladesh's violence and rise of religious militancy in the National.

INDIA: The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India held bilateral talks (Indian Express) to discuss the disputed border region of Kashmir and a probe into the January attack on India's Pathankot air force base. The meeting is the first high-level visit from Islamabad to New Delhi since the attack (Dawn).


Turkey Vows to Boost Legal Protection for Non-Syrian Refugees

In a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday, Turkey promised that asylum seekers deported from Greece to Turkey would have their claims heard in full and in a timely manner (FT). The commitment to hear claims from Syrian and non-Syrian refugees provides Greece and the European Union legal cover to deport asylum seekers as part of an agreement reached with Turkey last month.

In this CFR interview, Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative discusses the EU-Turkey refugee deal.


ICC to Probe Burundi Electoral Violence

A prosecutor from the International Criminal Court announced the opening of a probe into last year's violence (VOA) that followed President Pierre Nkurunziza's run for a disputed third term in office. The prosecutor said she had reviewed accounts of "killings, imprisonment, torture, rape, and other forms of sexual violence as well as cases of enforced disappearances" in the country.

SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa's ruling African National Congress said it would sue an opposition politician (Al Jazeera) for threatening to remove President Jacob Zuma "through the barrel of a gun." Julius Mulema, once a leader in the ANC youth and now of the head of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, has accused the government of violently suppressing dissent.

CFR's John Campbell discusses discontent over South African President Jacob Zuma in this blog post.


Ukraine Marks Thirtieth Anniversary of Chernobyl Disaster

Ukraine is hosting a series of events to commemorate the 1986 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant (BBC). International donors pledged $99 million on Monday to the construction of a new underground nuclear waste facility in the area.

UNITED KINGDOM: The House of Commons voted against an amendment to the country's immigration bill that would have allowed three thousand unaccompanied Syrian minors into the United Kingdom (Guardian).


Canadian Hostage Beheaded by Islamists in Philippines

A sixty-eight-year-old Canadian tourist kidnapped by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf was executed after a deadline to pay ransom had passed (Globe and Mail). A second Canadian man remains captive.

BRAZIL: Private analysts surveyed by Brazil's central bank expect the country's economy to contract by 3.9 percent this year, a decline sharper than that seen last year (LAHT).

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