The government’s efforts to diversify the economy, create jobs, and replace the estimated nine million expatriates with Saudis could very well pay dividends and help ameliorate some of the hardships about which an an increasing number of Saudis are complaining. However, being the world’s biggest, single repository of crude oil — and the birthplace of Islam — does not guarantee a Utopian existence in which the public sector operates like clockwork, government planners are all visionaries, and for-profit enterprises “answer to a higher source.”
Nevertheless, Saudi leaders need to stress that while they might have been thought of as “shepherds” looking after a “flock” when the “ruling bargain” between them and the people was first struck, it might be instructive to think of them now as mere “custodians” of the county with the people at large in the driver’s seat. It is not a coincidence that “the people are our greatest asset” has become a mantra of sorts among Saudi officials. This message will have to be amplified and repeated.