January 3, 2017 / 10:54 AM / 8 months ago

Millennial princes snatch at power in Gulf

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015.Charles Platiau

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - For ageing monarchs in the Gulf, handing more power to a younger generation of princes makes sense. The task of diversifying their economies away from dependence on oil exports and implementing tricky social reforms requires an infusion of vigour and fresh ideas. Expect a new breed of millennial royalty and technocrats to emerge in 2017.

The overdue generational shift is already underway. Saudi Arabia’s octogenarian king set an example in 2015 when he sidelined an entire generation of older royals in favour of elevating his 30-something son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. After leapfrogging his older uncles, cousins and half-brothers in the House of Saud, the prince has pushed through the biggest shake-up in the kingdom’s economy in the last 50 years. Other ageing hereditary rulers in the region will have taken note.

The prince’s grand economic plan, known as Vision 2030, aims to provide more jobs and opportunities for Saudis under the age of 25. Although this group accounts for over half the Saudi population, their opportunities have been restricted by a system that places too much value on seniority and experience ahead of promoting youth and new ideas, especially in the upper echelons of government.

The monarchs and sheikhs of the Gulf Cooperation Council ignore the needs of their younger subjects at their peril. Youth unemployment in the oil-rich region is high partly due to a lack of opportunities outside the energy industry and a dependence on imported labour. Despite efforts to improve education and skills in the local workforce, joblessness among young people is twice the overall rate in the GCC, according to World Bank data. Allowing a large disaffected youth to fester without positive role models in positions of authority could be dangerous if that helps extremists, who often prey on the vulnerable.

There are also dangers in thrusting a new generation of untested princes who lack sufficient experience into positions of power. Mohammed bin Salman’s necessary economic reforms have caused some unease in the kingdom, while his military adventures in Yemen and sabre-rattling towards Iran have looked rash.

Despite these missteps, though, other young princes in the Gulf may be given the same room to make mistakes in 2017.

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