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(Updates with comments starting from second paragraph. Click DAVOS for more on the World Economic Forum )
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian modernization is “a work in progress” and the country needs to expand education and employment for its youth as it diversifies the economy, Prince Turki Al-Faisal said.
The country is learning from other states, Prince Turki, a former ambassador to the U.S., said in a Bloomberg Television interview today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The need to modernize “is recognized as such” by the nation’s leadership, he said, adding that King Abdullah last year moved to extend voting rights to women. “We still need to go forward,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, aims to diversify its economy away from a reliance on crude sales by developing industries such as petrochemicals and manufacturing to create jobs for its 28 million residents.
“We have put a lot of money in mineral resources,” Prince Turki said. Infrastructure projects, such as railroads that transport raw materials across the Arabian Peninsula, aim to create jobs and help build new industries, he said.
Unemployment among youth in the Middle East may “inevitably” lead to unrest as people “seek other ways of finding a livelihood, whether it is criminality, whether it is uprisings,” Prince Turki said. That makes expanding education in the kingdom “essential,” he said.
A year after the start of political uprisings that swept rulers from power in Arab states from Tunisia to Egypt, the region is still “in flux,” Prince Turki said. Transitions in Tunisia and Egypt will “be smoother than people expect.”
In neighboring Bahrain, conflict broke out as members of the Shiite Muslim majority demanded a more representative government and greater rights from the country’s Sunni Muslim rulers. Any solution to tension in Bahrain must be resolved through negotiation, Prince Turki said.
He also called on the U.S. and Iran to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. and its European allies have imposed sanctions on Iran to pressure the country to give up a nuclear program the West says may be used to create weapons. Iran says the program is for civilian use.
Both sides need to “cool things down” and avoid closing the Strait of Hormuz, he said. Iran threatened to stop traffic in the shipping channel through which about a fifth of global oil supply passes daily.
“Not just the West and Iran, but the rest of the world community, have to get their act together and prevent any escalating moves,” he said.
--Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Digby Lidstone
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