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    Wind of Change: Saudi Arabia Prepares for the End of 'The Oil Age'

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    The recent resignation of a veteran Saudi oil minister signals an economic overhaul aimed at making the country less reliant on oil revenues.

    Ali al-Naimi has been replaced after 20 years in the office by former health minister Khaled al-Falih, official Saudi media reported on Saturday. The change came as part of a wider government revamp that also saw a new central bank governor take office.

    In April, Saudi Arabia unveiled its major economic reform plan aimed at ending the country's dependence on oil production and essentially turning the country into an enormous hedge fund.

    Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi columnist, political commentator and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel told Radio Sputnik that the government reshuffle reflected the liberalization of the Saudi society.

    He pointed out that the former minister was in fact appointed as a special advisor to the king, and that the new structure of the government was dictated by the necessity to implement a new economic plan "that requires major economic and social transformation in Saudi Arabia."

    "Saudi Arabia wants to be powerful beyond oil. We feel that the oil age is about to pass in two to three decades, so we have to have an alternative. We want to benefit from our financial strengths to make Saudi Arabia financially powerful on its own, but at the same time we want to benefit from oil as much as we can," Khashoggi said.

    He also added that the kingdom doesn’t consider its oil reserves as a tool to apply political pressure to other countries and merely seeks to maintain its market share.

    Meanwhile, the Saudi society as a whole welcomes these reforms and is looking forward to benefits it may bring, according to Khashoggi.

    "People are quite enthusiastic. They want a better life, that’s what matters. The announcement is all about that, it’s all about economics, there’s hardly any politics there. It’s just a better life, entertainment, good living standards. In fact, for the first time ever in Saudi Arabia now we have a committee for entertainment… which shows how important it is for the Saudis and for the direction of the government – that it is pushing for more enjoyment is the life for the Saudis," he explained.

    Nevertheless, Khashoggi remarked, there are two groups of skeptics in the country who are concerned with this plan.

    "Skeptics number one are very traditional economic skeptics. An economist is always a skeptic – they have to doubt numbers, figures and expectations. And I think their skepticism can be positive… The other skeptics are the conservatives, and the conservatives will always be worried about social transformations," he said.

    Regardless, the majority of the Saudis approve of these changes, so the conservatives need learn how to live without forcing their views upon others, Khashoggi said.

    "It is a course of history, and we have to go down that road. That’s what the people want," he concluded.


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    Oil, conservatives, transformation, government, reforms, Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia
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