The Saudi Arabian monarchy is considered as one of the most closed and conservative societies of the world. The custodian of Islam’s holiest sites Mecca and Medina, leader of world’s biggest oil cartel OPEC, home to some of the biggest oilfields, and an economic powerhouse, Saudi Arabia is one of the most beguiling countries that exist. Reeling under the Orthodox religious laws of their Wahabis’ masters, citizens of this nation are often subject to some strange and dangerous laws. Their guardianship is based on some of the strictest interpretation of Islam such that activities normal to the western world are forbidden and even a punishable offence. One among them was means of telecommunication such as messaging apps.
Just yesterday, the kingdom has lifted its year-long ban on Skype, Whatsapp messenger and Snapchat. In a series of reforms by the telecommunications authority, this represents a major shift in their policy over Internet calls, as they hitherto had a ban on the VOIP calls.
Speculations are rife over the list of possible reasons for this move. Since the oil giant is losing both income and market share over the declining crude oil prices, the Saudi administration is exploring other ways to raise revenues. In order to stimulate the economy, the ubiquity of Internet in international commerce is unrealistic to be ignored. Hence, they are envisioning the incentivization of internet-based businesses. A separate statement from the Saudi information ministry admits that access to VOIP will reduce operational costs and proliferate digital entrepreneurship.
This decision can be unpopular among its mega-telecom companies whose profits might take a nosedive. However, in this era of connectivity, the kingdom cannot deprive the large population of youth of this transformational and inevitable technology. The new crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken several progressive decisions in order to diversify their financial coffers, and wish to energize the tourism, entertainment and telecom sectors. Dependence on oil in the precarious scenario of global economic slowdown is unwanted and retrograde. As the country remains embroiled in several geopolitical scrimmages, the focus on emancipating the soft power cannot find a better timing.
Article by Mausam.