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Trump at the UN: What to watch for in address to General Assembly

New York, NY – As the UN gathers itself in New York, diplomats could be heard chatting about POTUS’ first speech to the General Assembly as a myriad of issues/conflicts seem to gather pace.

Just a refresher, on what Trump thinks about the UN:


He also remarked:


Trump is expected to give a scripted speech from a teleprompter on Tuesday. This could reminiscent of his speeches in Warsaw and Saudi Arabia from earlier this year. But tensions boiling in the Korean peninsula; the Iran nuclear deal in the balance; and, Trump’s lingering decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, this address holds heavy weight. The UN also plays a central role in mediating trade/global relations and in the protection and movement of refugees. These dynamics may also be worth looking out for.

The address is scheduled to tentatively begin at 10:15 AM EDT. You can watch it live below:

Image courtesy: The Hill. Media Courtesy: The White House.

Learning software in classrooms earns praise, causes debate

WASHINGTON — In middle school, Junior Alvarado often struggled with multiplication and earned poor grades in math, so when he started his freshman year at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter high school in the nation’s capital, he fretted that he would lag behind.

But his teachers used technology to identify his weak spots, customize a learning plan just for him and coach him through it. This past week, as Alvarado started sophomore geometry, he was more confident in his skills.

“For me personalized learning is having classes set at your level,” Alvarado, 15, said in between lessons. “They explain the problem step by step, it wouldn’t be as fast, it will be at your pace.”

As schools struggle to raise high school graduation rates and close the persistent achievement gap for minority and low-income students, many educators tout digital technology in the classroom as a way forward. But experts caution that this approach still needs more scrutiny and warn schools and parents against being overly reliant on computers.

The use of technology in schools is part of a broader concept of personalized learning that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a pedagogical philosophy centered on the interests and needs of each individual child as opposed to universal standards. Other features include flexible learning environments, customized education paths and letting students have a say in what and how they want to learn.

Under the Obama administration, the Education Department poured $500 million into personalized learning programs in 68 school districts serving close to a half million students in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Large organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also invested heavily in digital tools and other student-centered practices.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning. Rhode Island plans to spend $2 million to become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also embraces personalized learning as part of her broader push for school choice.

Supporters say the traditional education model, in which a teacher lectures at the blackboard and then tests all students at the same time, is obsolete and doesn’t reflect the modern world.

“The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers, who synthesize information, formulate and express a point of view,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “That’s the model we are trying to move toward.”

At Washington Leadership Academy, educators rely on software and data to track student progress and adapt teaching to enable students to master topics at their own speed.

This past week, sophomores used special computer programs to take diagnostic tests in math and reading, and teachers then used that data to develop individual learning plans. In English class, for example, students reading below grade level would be assigned the same books or articles as their peers, but complicated vocabulary in the text would be annotated on their screen.

“The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there; we don’t have to wait for the problem to come to us,” said Joseph Webb, founding principal at the school, which opened last year.

Webb, dressed in a green T-shirt reading “super school builder,” greeted students Wednesday with high-fives, hugs and humor. “Red boxers are not part of our uniform!” he shouted to one student, who responded by pulling up his pants.

The school serves some 200 predominantly African-American students from high-poverty and high-risk neighborhoods. Flags of prestigious universities hang from the ceiling and a “You are a leader” poster is taped to a classroom door. Based on a national assessment last year, the school ranked in the 96th percentile for improvement in math and in the 99th percentile in reading compared with schools whose students scored similarly at the beginning of the year.

It was one of 10 schools to win a $10 million grant in a national competition aimed at reinventing American high schools that is funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Naia McNatt, a lively 15-year-old who hopes to become “the African-American and female Bill Gates,” remembers feeling so bored and unchallenged in fourth grade that she stopped doing homework and her grades slipped.

At the academy, “I don’t get bored ’cause I guess I am pushed so much,” said McNatt, a sophomore. “It makes you like you need to do more, you need to know more.”

In math class, McNatt quickly worked through quadratic equations on her laptop. When she finished, the system spitted out additional, more challenging problems.

Her math teacher, Britney Wray, says that in her previous school she was torn between advanced learners and those who lagged significantly. She says often she wouldn’t know if a student was failing a specific unit until she started a new one.

In comparison, the academy’s technology now gives Wray instant feedback on which students need help and where. “We like to see the problem and fix the problem immediately,” she said.

Still, most researchers say it is too early to tell if personalized learning works better than traditional teaching.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that personalized learning produced modest improvements: a 3 percentile increase in math and a smaller, statistically insignificant increase for reading compared with schools that used more traditional approaches. Some students also complained that collaboration with classmates suffered because everybody was working on a different task.

“I would not advise for everybody to drop what they are doing and adopt personalized learning,” said John Pane, a co-author of the report. “A more cautious approach is necessary.”

The new opportunities also pose new challenges. Pediatricians warn that too much screen time can come at the expense of face-to-face social interaction, hands-on exploration and physical activity. Some studies also have shown that students may learn better from books than from computer screens, while another found that keeping children away from computers for five days in a row improved their emotional intelligence.

Some teachers are skeptical. Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education advocacy group, agrees that technology has its merits, but insists that no computer or software should ever replace the personal touch, motivation and inspiration teachers give their students.

“That interaction and that human element is very important when children learn,” Kilfoyle said.

 

Source: Maria Danilova of AP. Image courtesy: The Seattle TimesThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Unpacking Trump’s Afghanistan policy; India and Pakistan to play defining roles

Arlington, VA – President Donald Trump addressed his cabinet and various military personnel at Fort Meyer yesterday as he laid down his administration’s policies and strategies for Afghanistan. Trump campaigned on reducing military involvement abroad and vowed to end America’s “needless and disastrous” wars, especially the one in Afghanistan. Yesterday however, in a 26-minute long national address, POTUS made a u-turn and advocated for increased military in the region. This comes in the wake of a full review of the previous administration’s ‘Afghan policy’.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. It checks all boxes that could lead to instability: a corrupt, weak government and a resurgent Taliban. Still, victory in Afghanistan has eluded Trump’s predecessors. Despite Bush’s launch in the wake of 9/11 and Obama’s ‘surge’ to 100,000 troops, at its highest point, the region could not be rid of conflict and instability.

Over the years, a myriad of balances have been sought, in terms of military and diplomatic forces/involvement, only to find Afghanistan at the weakest since US boots first stepped on the ground. Trump, too, offered up some of these options. He called out immediate neighbors to the east, Pakistan, seemingly offering them a ‘clean slate’ if they stopped harboring and training terrorists in havens. He even touched upon India’s continued support of stability in Afghanistan and asked for increased help in areas of economic assistance and development (India has provided $3 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001).

Trump outlined new ‘pillars’ on Afghan policy and detailed the administration’s goals in the region. “Dismantling al-Qaeda” and “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan” were met with criticism of being too vague and broad. Further, steering away from “time-commitments”, leaves a sense of un-ending war, one that has already lasted 16 years without much desired impact.

America First

Trump acknowledged that his position on Afghanistan has changed since taking office. What this means for his “America First” manifesto is yet to be realized, especially with a war that seems to have no end. “My original instinct was to pull out,” he confessed as he laid out ‘three fundamental conclusions’ – all of which appeal to patriotism and nationalistic pride. An honorable, enduring outcome; wary of power vacuums; an immense security threats emanating from the region – all, potentially, resonating for his base.

If anything came at a premium during this address, it was finer details. Trump has often criticized former Presidents, especially Obama, for publicly announcing timelines and strategies. He unveiled this will no longer be the case as the administration switches from a “time-based” approach to one based on conditions-on-the-ground. “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress,” Trump noted. “However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.”

Front lines

Currently, there are about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. In the fight against the Taliban and Islamic State fighters, these soldiers serve as training hubs for Afghan fighters. With threats increasing on the ground, a 4,000-troop increase has been rumored to be circling around the Pentagon.

Members of the military, especially the ones well-versed with the region and the insurgency, have advocated for more troops since they can expedite training and make Afghans more capable of taking the enemy alone. “We need guardian angels,” said Lt. Col. John Sandor, deputy senior adviser for the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps, referring to security forces that would protect U.S. training teams so they can work alongside Afghan brigades.

 

Source: Image courtesy: The AtlanticThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

RAISE ACT; GOP slash legal immigration, issues new guidelines on green cards

Washington – President Donald Trump, along with GOP senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, announced new proposals on legal immigration yesterday. The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act prioritizes skill and merit, to ensure prospective incomers are highly-skilled, economically self-sufficient, and contributing members of the economy.

“This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first,” Trump said during an event Wednesday in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

This announcement comes as no surprise as Trump had extensively campaigned on protecting borders and American workers from legal and illegal immigration. Although the administration in its early days has been focusing on combating illegal immigration, specifically, violent illegal immigrants, the proposed GOP plan will only affect policy specific to Green Cards.

Green Cards are permanent residency cards that allow the holder(s) to become non-citizens, who can enter/exit the country as per their will and seek employment as well. There have been reports of widespread abuse of such programs, and the new proposed plan aims to revamp the current issuance and appraisal guidelines.

Perdue and Cotton’s legislation would replace the current process for obtaining legal permanent residency, or green cards, creating a skills-based point system for employment visas. The bill would also eliminate the preference for U.S. residents’ extended and adult family members, while maintaining priority for their spouses and minor children. Overall, immigration would be slashed 41 percent in the legislation’s first year and 50 percent in its 10th, according to projection models cited by the bill’s sponsors.

Additionally, the bill would create a new points-based system for applicants seeking to become legal permanent residents, favoring those who can speak English, have high-paying job offers, can financially support themselves and offer skills that would contribute to the U.S. economy. These individuals will also be disqualified from welfare payments for a period of time, ensuring decreased dependency on state support.

Critics have indicated otherwise, noting recent immigration trends don’t appear to have hurt wages significantly. They also point towards faster economic growth because of competition spurred by an increased pool in the workforce. The bill’s supporters counter by claiming such reform will make the US more competitive as it will raise wages and create jobs.

Despite the noise, there is a long way to go until this proposal becomes law. The RAISE Act is bound to evolve as Congress deliberates and conferences on the fine points of the bill. To many people’s surprise, the much-debated and misused H-1B or H-2B visas are not targeted under such a legislation. Still, tech companies and executives have already voiced their concerns, citing uncertainty for their workers. Outside the tech community, many have a 50-50 view on such legislation. Experts believe a switch to a merit-based system is only reasonable and definitely in the US interest. However, deep cuts to the total number of legal immigrants are counter-productive. This might defeat the purpose of switching to a merit-based system and makes little sense to then limit the number of new highly-skilled workers.

Source: AP and Reuters . Image courtesy: Washington ExaminerThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

H-1B Program under the Trump Administration

A central pillar of President Donald Trump’s manifesto was increased focus on ‘buying and hiring American’. The President was extremely vocal in his criticism of foreign workers’ programs, specifically the H-1B visa program. Additionally, he also questioned the effectiveness of a lottery-based system as opposed to a meritocratic system, which would focus on keeping the brightest talents, a system which has shown great results in other advanced economies like Canada and Australia.

Advocates of the program are quick to point to the successes enjoyed by the American economy thanks to foreign worker’s coming in and taking up jobs that Americans are either not interested in or are not qualified for. The H-1B program may even be described as a staple for certain industries. Specifically, the tech industry, where highly educated workers, with most holding master’s degrees or higher, are found in abundance. These are high-quality, high-paying jobs, with average compensations of $92,317 in the first six months of 2017.

There is no denying that the H-1B visa is an essential cog in the American economy. Visa holders can be found conducting some of the most basic day-to-day work and even in the higher echelons of the decision-making chain. Today especially, many of the top CEOs and other top members of the hierarchy were previously holders of one of the foreign worker programs. Perhaps even more importantly, many such visa holders have gone on to become employers, hiring Americans in the process and creating jobs for the economy.

That being said, it is flawed to assume the H-1B program comes without faults and frauds. Many companies resort to unfair tactics to game the system and gain advantages in the lottery. Visa hoarding, the practice of applying for excessive visas for future use, is one the most central issues. Similarly, excessive reliance solely on foreign labor and off-site workers unfairly thwarts opportunities for the domestic workforce.

While there have been no new legislative guidances from Washington yet, Trump’s electoral victory certainly raised uncertainty for many corporations that may rely on the worker program, including the ones that might really need it. This year, according to USCIS data released last week, the government has received more than 300,000 H-1B petitions, almost 100,000 less compared to last year – a clear indicator of the government cracking down on fraud, pushing employers to pursue fair and legal tactics.

Lower approval rates can also be observed. In 2016, USCIS approved 87% of the applications. This year, it’s been a little more than 58%. This lower approval rate may not be necessarily be permanent however. This year’s application process has not ended yet. But the USCIS is now rigorously following up with applicants, requesting additional information and legal paperworks. Premium processing, which allows for expedited reviewing of documents, has also been suspended in order to comprehensively process applications.

It seems while the White House continues to address more pressing issues, for a lack of a better term, it has, for now, taken a more subtle approach to counter fraud in the H-1B system. Before the law changes, the existing process has been made more thorough.

Source: Polly Mosendz and Lance Lambert of Bloomberg. Image courtesy: QuartzThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Modi at G20: Highlights from Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany – Prime Minister Modi arrived in Hamburg during the late hours of July 6th for the 2017 G20 summit. This annual summit sees world leaders addressing and discussing issues pertaining to the economy, trade, markets, among others. Founded in 1999, G20 has been an important platform for the world’s emerging economies. It represents about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85% of global GDP, and over 75% of global trade. This year however, the summit was being overshadowed by the massive swaths of protesters, at least in the media. Reports put the tally of protesters around 13,000, which included black-clad anarchists as well. The police had to resort to water canons, tear gas and pepper spray to finally stop the protests.

In the wake of the summit, tensions seemed high as well. Apart from the lurking US-Russia ‘encounter’, across the pond, India too had its own set of sticking points. One very public one was China. So much so that Modi and Xi never met during the summit. They shared the room during BRICS meetings and other events, but there were no substantial face-to-face encounters that led to potential consensus.

Modi also participated in the leaders’ retreat and the sessions on Global Growth and Trade and on Sustainable Development, Climate and Energy. Although counter-terrorism and economic reforms remained at the forefront of the discussions, the summit also saw issues like free and open trade, climate change, migration, sustainable development and global stability being given great importance.

Modi also held pre-planned meetings on sidelines of the summit with Argentina, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, the UK and Vietnam,

The 2017 G20, especially in its buildup, was dominated by US-led and/or protestor-led headlines. From the much-awaited handshake between Trump and Putin (turns out handshakes can only be so exciting) to FLOTUS being ‘trapped’ in her room, many other developments slipped below the radar. Somethings to keep in mind – Modi was extremely vocal about defeating terrorism. On several occasions, the PM portrayed such violent ideologies as purveyors of destruction, who don’t have rational understandings. Modi also engaged his counter-parts and held ‘productive’ talks with many of them. More details on that to follow. Modi might not have dominated headlines, but at such events you might not want to either.

Source: NDTV. Image courtesy: Indian ExpressThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Modi in Israel

Tel Aviv – As Prime Minister Modi makes a historic visit, Indo-Israeli ties poised to be reaching “ground-breaking” heights. Some historical perspective – India had voted against the partition of Palestine in 1947, followed by raising objection to Palestine’s induction as a UN member. Although India recognized the Jewish nation formally in 1950, it wasn’t until 1992 that full diplomatic ties were established. Since, Israeli representatives have visited New Delhi. But, President Mukherjee (2015) and Modi (current) were the firsts to reciprocate.

Modi was welcomed on the tarmac by Prime Minister Netanyahu and deputy chief of the Knesset. This was followed by a ceremony where the Israeli PM openly welcomed this newly found friendship. Watch full speech below.

Israel is a key bridge in shaping of Indian foreign policy and more specifically in Indo-American policy. Modi’s foreign excursions might draw criticism at home, but they are calculated and informed moves. Patching a severed relationship with Israel, shortly after striking an amicable cord with Trump shows a clear intent. Further, pivoting to a “non-security”-based partnership, as opposed to the earlier defense-based partnership with Israel that led to some frictions, shows adaptability and the inclination to work with the right partners.

Modi and Netanyahu displayed a clear sense of fondness and admiration for each other. They seemed particularly inspired by each others policies and initiatives as well. While Netanyahu left no stone unturned in voicing his ‘love’ for India, Modi went even further. During his address, he made a particularly touching reference, especially for Netanyahu. Modi recalled how Tuesday marked the 41st century of Jonathan Netanyahu (the PM’s brother) losing his life in a counter-terrorism operation. This struck a personal chord with the Israeli PM and a clear acknowledgement that India and Israel face similar threats, according to Netanyahu’s office.

Source: Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu. Image courtesy: The Times of IsraelThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

GM CEO Mary Barra Has a New Plan to Get More Girls Interested in STEM

GM CEO Mary Barra announced a pledge of $850,000, for program that encourage young women and minorities to gain STEM skill. Four non-profits – Black Girls Code, Code.org, Digital Promise and Institute of Play – will be the recipients of this funding, with a mission to bring more girls into STEM fields and careers.

Barra holds such investments in high importance because of the evolution of certain industries. The automotive industry, for example, is being transitioned into a more tech-led field, with great advancements in electric and self-driving cars.

She believes such initiatives greatly develop students’ and teachers’ capabilities and will help ready students for futures in technical fields.

Barra wants to see young women gaining the skills they need to not just work at GM, but to “give them the opportunity to sit at the senior leadership table.”

And for young girls considering a career in STEM, Barra has a simple piece of advice: “Don’t take yourself out of the game before the game starts,” she says.

Source: Madeline Farber of Fortune. Image courtesy: AAUWThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Modi and Trump meet: What and what not to expect

Washington – Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally landed in Washington during the late hours of Sunday. What also followed was an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Modi revisited his earlier trip to the US, which was surrounded by great fanfare and an address to a joint-session of the US Congress. A new relationship that overcame the “hesitations of history” and started blossoming under President Obama, is now seen moving towards a deeper and stronger partnership extending beyond ‘the Beltway and Raisina Hill’ according to the Prime Minister. A year later her returns “confident in the growing convergence between our two nations.”

This is the first time Trump and Modi will meet. Although this meeting is not being designated as an ‘official visit’, certain crucial issues will surely be discussed. Modi is seen as a torch-bearer for a ‘New India’. Since assuming office, he has cut regulation, introduced historic tax reform, escalated the extent and number of countries with which India has had bilateral ties, and injected a fresh sense of enthusiasm for India on an international level. This has been made evident by his relentless zest to meet world leaders and develop ways for increased foreign investment and security ties. If Modi will use a similar strategy to court Trump remains to be seen.

Trump has been unpredictable since taking office. How he handles the summit and his relationship with Modi is a good question as any. What is clear is that both leaders see eye-to-eye on certain key issues. Considering today’s uncertain global economic landscape, the conversation (at least publicly) might be limited to the same. Modi’s objective in this is simple – establish a strong foundation with Trump, build a rapport, garner mutual trust, and seek clarity on what to expect from this relationship. This won’t be hard as Modi is certain to bring up issues that hit home with the President.

Terrorism

Modi and Trump are two peas in a pod when it comes to radical Islamic terrorism. They hold a central doctrine that dictates a strong and robust position against violent extremism. Any public address is sure to address this key issue and will see both leaders denounce such ideologues that preach hate and murder. Their joint-determination to eradicate terror might even take up the central spotlight of the summit. However, this same issue could cause friction in the future as Trump might expect Modi to join the fight against ISIS, while Modi might seek reciprocity by demanding stricter action against Pakistan.

Asia-Pacific

With tension soaring higher than ever in the region, thanks mostly to North Korea, the two leaders are going to drastically overhaul their playbook. During his 2016 campaign, Trump identified China and its excessive maritime activities as a challenge for sovereignty of surrounding nations. India too has had worries with increased Chinese naval activity in the Indian ocean, with a Chinese submarine docking in Sri Lanka in 2014.

However, with the rise of a nuclear North Korea, the US has been leaning on China. This gives India’s neighbors political ammunition and will act as a buffer for any US-India led approaches. Only China can play a mediating role with the rogue regime in Pyongyang. Although Trump and Modi are almost equally apprehensive of a China with increasing political and economical clout, any measures to balance Beijing’s regional activity will have to be subtle (22 surveillance-drones-subtle) and maybe even delayed. A consensus might not materialize in practice, but Modi and Trump will surely appreciate another area of cooperation.

Afghanistan

One thing is for sure – New Delhi is Kabul’s closest ally in the region. A place that has been ravaged by war and destabilization, Modi and Trump will surely discuss how to ‘solve Afghanistan’. Trump ordered a comprehensive policy review of Afghanistan, where 8,000 US troops continue to be stationed. Modi has opted for a different approach. He has engaged with the government in Kabul and offered economic relief to fight insurgency in the area. What is uncertain is how Trump views New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan and whether a shift in US policy will place more responsibility on India.

Indians in America

Recent attacks in the US, especially on immigrant communities are being increasingly reported in the news. Reports of attacks on Indian Americans have gained attention too. Trump has been criticized for not only maintaining relative silence about it, but been blamed to have incited such instances because of his rhetoric. The Indian American community has been worried with recent spikes and voiced their concerns. Given the fears of the diaspora and the crucial role played by them, Modi might be so inclined to remind Trump of the threats being faced by Indian Americans.

Define the Relationship?

For years India and US have been labelled as ‘strategic partners’. The usual – “largest democracy and the oldest democracy” – can be overheard in political corridors of Washington or New Delhi. Peel the onion however, and little can be made of this ‘strategic’ element. Both countries view this partnership differently  – one that is continuous in theory but not in practice. Modi will be careful in bringing this up. He understand Trump’s fondness with reciprocity. To that avail, Modi will carefully assess possibilities for their future. For anything to materialize, the summit will have to be more transaction-based than strategy-based.

Paris Accord, Economics, and H-1B

While the two leaders share many beliefs and have even expressed appreciation for each other, there are areas that will be best left unaddressed. While withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump noted the special ‘concessions’ countries like India and China enjoyed in the ‘unfair’ agreement. Although both leaders show an appreciation for clean energy, the Paris Accord can safely be considered a no-go zone.

Another area of potential friction is Trump’s ‘American First’ program and Modi’s ‘Make in India’. Both leaders have called up on companies and businesses to operate in their respective countries, by incentivizing and providing tax advantages. Add to this the growing controversy with non-immigrant work visas like the H-1B, and we have a major irritant on our hands. Both leaders understand the importance played by foreign skilled-workers in the US but they also are sure to understand the need for reform in the program. Modi is best to leave such a domestic issue that is seemingly close to Trump’s heart, off the table entirely.

All-in-all this meeting can be categorized as a ‘first date’. Both leaders share a fondness for each other but will be guarded in their own ways. For India and the US to continue regional and strategic partnerships, it is imperative the two leaders get comfortable with each other. They are both action and results oriented and that’s what talks should focus on.

Image courtesy: QuartzThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Saudi Succession: Who is the new crown prince Mohammed bin Salman?

Riyadh – In the early hours of June 21, a massive announcement was made in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. King Salman named his son as his heir to the throne. Many believed Mohammed bin Nayef, who was spearheading the battle against al-Qaeda, would be in the ascendancy. Nayef has enjoyed warm relations with the United States and serves as the interior minister of Saudi Arabia.

The announcement, as unexpected as it might have been, is not surprising considering the relations between the king and the now-crown prince. Unlike his other half-brothers who have built independent careers, Prince Mohammed has worked in close proximity with his father. After completing his bachelors in law, he started working for the Bureau of Experts – an advisory body on legal issues. He then went onto work for Riyadh’s governor and started building interests in defense.

Today, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, enjoys a reputation as a bold reformer. Some of his policy pillars include weaning the kingdom off oil, driving an incisive and aggressive foreign policy against arch-rival Iran, and a higher degree of autonomy for women in Islam. It is no doubt that the crown prince represents a cultural u-turn, one that would transfer power to a much younger generation, in what has historically been a highly patriarchal society. Perhaps that is why younger Saudi have applauded the announcement, while the older conservatives remain skeptic.

Mohammed’s Meteoric Rise

Two years ago, not many knew who the crown prince was. It was widely rumored that he didn’t enjoy particularly warm relations with the former King Abdullah. But when Salman became the crown prince in 2012, he named Prince Mohammed as the Chief of Court. This was the turning point. Then in 2015, following King Abdullah’s death and his father’s ascension, Prince Mohammed was named the deputy crown prince and also the new defense minister.

He also heads the Council for Economic Development Affairs – a pivotal body that oversses all elements of policy that touch on the economy or social issues like education and health. He is also  the chair of the board of Aramco – the world’s most valuable company. The crown prince has enjoyed an extreme level of trust and also influence.

Confrontational, Not Consensual

Prince Mohammed is believed to be the primary decision-maker behind engaging in Yemen and severing links with Qatar. Both decisions show an aggressive approach in the region, contrary to the kingdom’s past strategy. Iran’s growing influence in the region is seen as infringement in Riyadh. Adding to that the Obama administration’s concessions to Iran, the Sunni kingdom has ramped up activity and in a more hawkish way.

Perception

As the potentially youngest ruler of the kingdom, Prince Mohammed represents a breath of fresh air. His cultural ideas and relatively liberal philosophy has been embraced by the younger generation of Saudis. But in a hyper-conservative society, many remain wary of what this might mean.

For many Saudis, economic reforms have come and gone with little to show for them. Limited results in a rapidly transforming society raise eyebrows among the older conservatives. They fear the fabric of society won’t be able to handle change at such pace.

Even outside the kingdom, concerns are brewing. Prince Mohammed represents a bold leader, but perhaps an unpredictable one. Although he has shown a drive to bring rapid advance and modernize policy on matters like energy and economy, some allies remain on their toes. There is widespread skepticism as to whether his hardline stance will be bolstered as king, or whether he’ll take a back seat. Either way, his unpredictability remains.

Among the younger Saudis however, he is touted and applauded. His Vision 2030 plan shows a keen eye for the future. He also established a think-tank that focuses on improving education, arts, and quality of life. He also enjoys great support from women in Saudi Arabia. An increased role for women in the economy and in the culture represents a dramatic shift from earlier generations – one that is garnering great support.

The kingdom of Saud is an all critical one – not just in regional affairs but in global terms. As the youngest ever ruler of this powerful kingdom, who represents a burgeoning modernity, Prince Mohammed has an ideal platform to launch himself from. If he is successful in balancing his liberal and conservative ideas, he will enjoy the throne for many many years.

Image courtesy: NBC NewsThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.