By Nicholas Contompasis
"This puff piece by Jeffrey Towson on Prince Al Waleed and the soon to be troubled Saudi Arabia that stores 25% of the worlds known oil reserves, illustrates the extent to which the Royal family is willing to go to make sure the Kingdom doesn't turn into another Libya.
As you well know I have issues with Prince Al Waleed's methods of jamming Islam down the throats of the West, but I do respect his capitalist habits. Yet, I still question his end game. Is it for Allah or is it for the Prince?
If this Fridays demonstrations turn ugly, the Prince and his families seemingly endless fortunes could come to an end and we all could be paying $20 a gallon at the pump."
Saudi Arabia’s Buttock-Clenching Week
Mar. 7, 2011
By Jeffrey Towson
Jeffrey Towson is Managing Partner at the Towson Group
All eyes are turning to Saudi Arabia and it is going to be a fairly tense week in the world’s other magic Kingdom. As someone who has developed +$10B of high profile projects in that country, here is my assessment of what will and won't happen.
Regarding the +$35 billion in announced reforms. These are mainly economic, not political, in nature. And you can expect them to be very successful in the short-term. They increase the salaries of government workers, move more of the population into government jobs, subsidize education, subsidize housing, and so on. The King is bringing a $35 billion sledge hammer down on the Kingdom’s most immediate economic problem - the increasing unaffordability of life for significant portions of the population. And it will work. In a country of 23M, $35 billion is a big hammer.
But does giving more people government jobs (the majority of employed Saudi men already work for the government), unemployment insurance, more subsidized education, interest free home loans and so on address any of the real problems? Not really. But short-term solutions are the order of the day.
It's the important long-term reforms that everyone is thinking about, tensing up and watching for.
Step back and take a look at Saudi Arabia from 30,000 feet. There is 25% of the world's oil wealth. The population is a fairly manageable 23M (and they are all capitalists as far as I can tell). You have particularly robust infrastructure and functional (albeit large) government. The politico-economic system has been fairly stable for 70 years. You have a unifying religion and culture. And you have some of the world’s greatest investors. You have everything a developing economy could ever hope to have.
So what exactly is the problem? Why did Dubai become a modern city in only ten years while Riyadh, a much wealthier city, seems frozen in time?
Almost on cue, the region’s leading investor has recently spoken up about this. My former boss Prince Alwaleed released a particularly thoughtful Op-Ed in the New York Times calling for a combination of greater political participation and the empowerment of women and youth.
Women and youth constitute the majority of the population and are not part of the workforce today. I am no economist but when the majority of the population is not working, that seems an economic problem. He is basically calling for the political and economic engagement of both groups - which is a sledge hammer on the long-term economic problems. He is addressing the human capital problem that is the true difference between Riyadh and Dubai.
And it should work. In one move you can engage a massive, and particularly eager, population. It's really pretty clever. After almost a decade sitting down the hall from
Prince Alwaleed, I have come to be in awe of his ability to figure out realistic solutions to real-world problems. In a world of talkers, he is a proven prime mover.
That's my assessment. A big effective short-term economic reform and maybe movement towards a longer-term one. The "Day of Rage" is this Friday. We'll see what happens. I'll probably be in line waiting for the iPad 2.