Five Things You May Have Missed From Prince Mohammed Interview

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with Bloomberg last week, promised that the stalled Aramco IPO will take place by 2021 at a valuation of at least $2 trillion, declared his love of working with Donald Trump, and shrugged off criticism that he’s clamping down on dissent.

But no less important were his comments on a wide range of issues shaping the Saudi Arabia of today -- and meant to change the contours of the kingdom’s future.

Yemen’s War

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been blamed for the humanitarian crisis gripping that nation, but Prince Mohammed swept that away by saying the world doesn’t need “a new Hezbollah in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Asked if the war is risking his relationship with allies critical of Saudi action in Yemen, he replied: “We can’t risk our national security for the sake of relations with other countries.”

Read More on the crown prince’s interview...

  • Aramco: Crown Prince Vows IPO by 2021, Keeps to $2 Trillion
  • Saudi Arabia Doubles Down on SoftBank Bet With Extra $45 Billion
  • A message to Trump: We’ve Replaced All Iran’s Lost Oil
  • The transcript: The Prince Discusses Trump, Aramco, Arrests

Unpredictable Policies

Investors have been rattled by the arrests of hundreds of clerics, women activists, royals and businessmen, as well as high-profile fallouts with Qatar, Canada and Germany. Prince Mohammed suggested he’s just following the Trump model.

“America is now having problems with most of countries and new economic deals with China, Canada, Mexico,” he said. “This is normal, to have differences, negotiations and try to seek for better deals and better understanding between countries. It’s normal for the United States of America, it’s normal for Saudi Arabia and each leader is trying to do the best to reach the best situation for his country.”

Social Reforms

The prince says Saudi Arabia needs social reforms to become more competitive regionally, and can’t even lure a non-Saudi CEO to head his foundation “because the lifestyle is not good.”

Clerics may not agree, but he says change can be had without violating Islamic laws. “We have to reach the best standard as soon as possible to be sure that people can work in this country and can proceed and build things in this country.”

Privatization

The privatization of more than 20 services -- primarily desalination projects, but also agriculture, energy and sports enterprises -- will start next year, and the government is already talking to potential local and foreign investors with “the know-how to run these businesses,” Prince Mohammed said. The Saudi government will own “a little bit of those companies,” the investors will own the majority and a minority be offered publicly, he said.

Neom

The planned $500 billion city powered by more robots than humans will be “like a small country in a big country,” including more than 12 towns on the Red Sea coast and six or seven more in the valley and mountains. There will be one large industrial zone, a huge port, and four airports, he said.

The first town in an area called the “Neom Riviera” will be completed in 2020, Prince Mohammed said. “A new investor will create something new there,” he added, without elaborating.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.