ܐܩܠܝܕܐ | إقليد | κλεῖς

The Christian Lord’s Prayer as the Introduction to the Qur’an

Christmas 2016 for the western churches is upon us. Nobody will dispute that 2016 was itself a trying year. A host of global problems have polarized human beings based on race, religion, ethnicity and other traits. The rise in right wing, fundamentalist, even racist rhetoric and identity politics have made this year especially divisive. To the Christians of America and Europe I say, you will find the culture and language of Christ in your Muslim brothers and sisters. So stop listening to the media and politicians and visit your local mosque. I assure you they will welcome you.To the Muslims globally I say, the Qur’an was originally written for a Christian and Jewish audience. So stop listening to clerics and try reading the text critically by yourself.

Christians and Muslims share a great deal–beyond their own humanity–not least because Aramaic and Arabic are sister languages that share a single cultural and religious sphere in the Middle East have been. To really understand the depth and complexity of this relationship requires one to learn difficult (but beautiful!) languages, read ancient manuscripts as well as tons of literature, history, social studies in other foreign languages. This is why, as we welcome the challenges of 2017, education matters; knowledge, research and digitization matters; humanities and social sciences matter; reading bokks matters; learning languages matters– facts matter. The “truth” (small “t”) is always complex. So don’t buy “us versus them” just because it’s simple!

To sample this complexity, consider the most commonly read Christian prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) and the most commonly read Muslim prayer (the Fatihah / Qur’an’s introduction) from my book The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions. Footnotes have been removes, and you have my apologies if some of the type or transliteration do not come through. Put on your thinking caps and enjoy!

Hope after grief — as Qur’an recitation takes place at a Christian funeral for one of the victims of the ISIS church bombing, Egypt

* Excerpts Begins (footnotes removed) *

The impact that the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer had on the language, form and content of liturgical prayers in the Arabic Qur’ān was profound. The text of the Lord’s Prayer reads,

  1. Our Father who is in Heaven (abūn d-ba-šmayā),

  2. Sanctified is Your name (nētqdaš šmāk).

  3. Your kingdom come (tītē malkūtāk)

  4. Your will be done (nēhwē s.ēbyānāk)

  5. As in Heaven so [too] on earth(aykanā d-ba-šmayā āp b-ar‘ā).

  6. Give us the bread that we need this day (hab lan lah. mā d-sūnqānan yawmānā).

  7. And forgive us our debts (wa šbūq lan hawbayn)

  8. Just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-hayābayn).

  9. And do not enter us into temptation (w lā ta‘aln l-nēsyūnā)

  10. But deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā);

Because to you belong the kingdom, the power and glory (met.ūl d-dīlāk hī malkūtā w haylā w tēšbūh. tā) forever and ever (l-‘ālam ‘ālmīn).

(Matthew 6:9–13: cf. Luke 11:2–4; Diatessaron 9:31–36; Didache 8)

Beginning with the most important qur’ānic example that was inspired by or re- articulated certain dimensions of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer, let us consider “the Opening” (al-fātihah; seventh century CE). The liturgical prayer that begins the Qur’ān serves as the first Surah and is, furthermore, unparalleled in literary and religious importance within all Islamic literature. As Sperl demonstrates, it is a prayer that comes from a long tradition of ancient and late antique Near Eastern liturgical style prayers, going back through the Gloria of the Roman mass (fourth century CE), the Lord’s Prayer (first century), the Shemoneh ‘Esreh of Rabbinic liturgy (first century CE?), and related to the Babylonian prayer to the moon god, Sin (first millennium BCE). It should be added that the Zoroastrian liturgies— especially the Avestan Gahs—and the supplications of Gēnzā Rbā R1:1:1–27 are too a foundational contribution to this prayer tradition. At any rate, the text of the fātihah, including the basmalah, follows:

  1. In the name of God, the Merciful, the Benevolent (b-ism allāh al-rah. mān al-rah. īm)

  2. Glory belongs to God, Lord of the worlds (al-hamd li al-allāh rabb al-‘ālamīn)

  3. The Merciful, the Benevolent (al-rah. mān al-rah. īm)

  4. King of the Day of Judgment (malik yawm al-dīn)122

  5. You do we serve (iyyāk na‘bud)

  6. And you do we ask for help (wa iyyāk nasta‘īn)

  7. Guide us to the straight path (ihdinā al-sirāt. al-mustaqīm)

  8. The path of those whom You have favored (sirāt. al-ladhīn an‘amt alayhim)

  9. Not those who incur anger (ghayr al-maghd. ūb ‘alayhim)

  10. Nor the lost (wa lā al-dāllīn)

(Q 1:1–7)123

Sperl convincingly relates the syntactic, rhetorical and symmetrical parallel- ism found in the Arabic fātihah to the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer. He notes that the underlying structure of the Lord’s Prayer, like the fātihah—including the basmalah—is divided symmetrically into two halves “juxtaposing the human and divine sphere.” Thus, according to Sperl’s distribution of the lines (see earlier), the first five lines of both the Lord’s Prayer and the fātihah concern God (glory and exaltation) and the latter five concern humankind (asking God for help). Without sharing Sperl’s belief that the original language of the Lord’s Prayer, which is “lost,” is of secondary importance, and without repeating the details of his otherwise valuable literary analysis, new insights follow making use of the Aramaic text of the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on the Arabic fātihah’s dogmatic re- articulation thereof.

A report going back to ‘Alī b. Abī T. ālib alleges that Waraqah—whose knowledge of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer may be assumed—gave Muhamamad the courage to receive the revelation of the first four lines of the fātihah. Concerning the text of the fātihah more specifically, the initial part of the basmalah, which states “in the name of God” (b-ism allāh; see also Q 27:30), begins the fātihah while invoking the phrase “sanctified is Your name” (nētqdaš šmāk) in the Lord’s Prayer, where Arabic ism corresponds to Aramaic šm. So too is the verse “King of the Day of Judgment” (malik yawm al-dīn) a re-articulation of “Your kingdom come” (tītē malkūtāk)—possibly mediated through Syriac homilies like that of Narsai—where the components of kingdom (see Chapter 5) and apocalypse (see Chapter 6) are juxtaposed. Thus, “King” (malik) invokes “kingdom” (malkūtā), and the phrase “the Day of Judgment” (yawm al-dīn) corresponds to the Aramaic feminine singular imperative verb “Come” (tītē). Other pairs that function as conceptual parallels include: the verbal clauses “guide us” (ihdinā) and “deliver us” (fas.ān); the construct “those who incur anger” (al-maghd. ūb ‘alayhim) and the noun with the first person plural suffix “our debters” (hayābayn); and finally, the nouns “the lost” (al-dāllīn) and “temptation” (nēsyūnā).

The rhyme at the end of the fātih. ah’s verses (not lines) is the one most commonly found in the Qur’ān, īn/īm. According to Sperl’s 10 line schema, the rhyme at the end of the fātihah’s lines is īn/īm (A), except for line 5 which ends in “we worship” (na‘bud; B) and lines 8 and 9 which end in the phrase “upon them” (‘alayhim; C), producing a rhyme scheme of A-A-A-A-B-A-A-C-C-A. Similarly, according to Sperl’s schema, the rhyme scheme of the Aramaic text is stronger than that of the Greek. The rhyme of the former consists of: the emphatic nominal singular article ā (A); the masculine singular possessive suffix ak (B); and the masculaine plural emphatic case plus first person plural possessive suffix ayn (C). This produces a rhyme scheme of A-B-B-B-A-A-A-C-C-A-A. Although the fātihah and Lord’s Prayer share neither rhyme morpheme nor rhyme scheme the occurrence of the stanzas C-C before a return to stanza A at the end may demonstrate the remnants of a shared liturgical substrate. Although Sperl never suggests it, rhyme is an integral phonetic component of the style employed in both the fātihah and Lord’s Prayer. Finally, like their Christian counterparts who chant the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer to this day, faithful Muslim worshippers chant the fātihah as an Arabic hymn and conclude it with the standard Judeo-Christian statement, āmīn (Aramaic āmēn).

The Lord’s Prayer not only affected the form and content of the fātihah but likely informed—along with Hebrew Scripture and Rabbinic commentary—a number of other liturgical prayers in the Qur’ān known for their profound literary and rhythmic qualities. As an invocation, “Our Father who is in Heaven (abūn d-ba-šmayā)” is used very much like the basmalah (Q 1:1; 27:30). As an exalta- tion of God’s name in the Spirit of Hebrew Scripture (1 Chronicles 16:35; 29:13; Psalms 44:8; Joel 2:26; and so on), “Sanctified is Your name (nētqdaš šmāk),” likely had some influence on the qur’ānic phrase, “so glorify in the name of your Lord, the Great One (fa sabbih. b-ism rabbik al-‘az.īm)” (Q 56:74, 96; 69:52).

The verbal clause in line 3 of the Lord’s Prayer stating, “Your kingdom come (tītē malkūtāk)” is adapted in the qur’ānic formula used in prayers, “Our Lord, bring us . . .!” (rabbanā [wa] ātinā . . .) demanding of God’s promise (Q 3:194) and mercy (Q 18:10; cf. Q 11:63; see further Q 9:75; 27:16). In this case the Aramaic verb tītēis the D stem of the third person feminine imperfect of the root āty, meaning “to come;” and the Arabic verb ātinā is the G stem of the masculine singular imperative of “to bring” (that is, causative, “to make come”) of the same root preserved in Arabic, tā.

The use of the command in line 6 of the Lord’s Prayer, “give us” (hab lan) matches the following qur’ānic prayers, “Our Lord, do not shake our hearts after having guided us; and give us (hab lanā), from Your mercy! Indeed, you are the Giver (al-wahhāb);” (Q 3:8); as well as, “And those who say give us (hab lanā) from our spouses and offspring a soothness [for our] eyes, and make us for the virtuous a guide” (Q 25:74).

The Arabic formula hab lanāis philologically and syntactically identical to its Aramaic counterpart hab lan: masculine singular imperative of the root whb/yhb meaning “to give,” and the preposition li/la meaning “to” attached to the first person plural possessive suffix n/nā respectively. It follows, therefore, that the qur’ānic use of whb is most likely derived from Aramaic.

Lines 7–8 of the Lord’s Prayer state, “and forgive us our debts (wa šbūq lan

  1. hawbayn), just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-
  2. hayābayn).” That the Qur’ān inherited the idea of “sin as debt” (Aramaic h. ūbā, Arabic h. ūb) made famous by the Aramaic Gospel Traditions is clear (Q 4:2). More significantly, these lines—which encapsulate the spirit of Judeo-Christian

brotherhood and forgiveness taught in the Gospels—are fitted to the circumstances of Muhammad’s community as they pray, Lord, forgive us (rabb ighfir lanā) and our brethren who preceded us in faith (wa li ikhwāninā al-dhīnā sabaqūnā bi al-īmān); and do not create in our hearts animosity (ghill) towards those who believe. Our Lord, you are the Compassionate, the Benevolent. (Q 59:10)

The syntax of formulae asking forgiveness for oneself in Arabic and Aramaic is the same: imperative plus preposition li/la plus pronominal suffix [plus ours sins/debts].

So the syntax of “forgive [for] us our debts” (wa šbūq lan hawbayn) is pre- served in “forgive us our sins” (ighfir lanā dhunūbanā) found in the Qur’ān (Q 3:16; 3:147; 3:193; cf. Q 12:97), where the imperative “forgive” (ighfir) parallels “forgive” (šbūq) and “our sins” (dhunūbunā) parallels “our debts” (hawbayn). In relation to this, as line 8 of the Lord’s Prayer—“just as we have forgiven our debters (aykānā d-āp h. nan šbaqn l-hayābayn)”—attempts to bridge the gap between Jesus’s socially disparate community by asking for mutual forgiveness among a community of “debters,” so too does Q 59:10 ask—as a compliment to the Gospels—that there not be mutual “animosity” (ghill) among the community of “brethren” and “believers.” Moreover, Muhammad saw the spirit of brother- hood and forgiveness demonstrated in the Hebrew Scriptures and Gospel Traditions as an example for his community to follow (Q 48:29).

The translation for the word nēsyūnāin line 9 of the Lord’s Prayer “And do not enter us into temptation (w lā ta‘aln l-nēsyūnā),” is rendered alternately by the NRSV as “trial.” The faithful pray in the Qur’ān for protection against both “temptation” (from n-s-ā) and “trial” (fitnah), which are further expounded upon in Chapter 4. Thus, it states,

Our Lord, do not hold us accountable if we are tempted or mistaken (lā tu’ākhidhnā in nasīnā aw akht.a’nā)

Our Lord, nor place upon us a burden as you placed on those before us

Our Lord, nor burden us with what we cannot withstand And pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us.

You are our Lord, so give us victory over the rebellious folk (al-qawm al-kāfirīn).

(Q 2:286)

As well as, “Our Lord, do not make us a trial for those who rebelled ( taj‘alnā fitnah li al-ladhīnā kafarū), and forgive us Lord. Indeed, you are the Mighty, the Wise” (Q 60:5; Cf. 10:85).

As suggested earlier, the conditional clause “if we are tempted” (in nasīnā; Q 2:286) and the noun for “trial” (fitnah; Q 60:5) are an Arabic verbal re-wording and calque—respectively—of the Aramaic word for “temptation, trial” (nēsyūnā). What firmly establishes the connection between these qur’ānic prayers and line 9 of the Lord’s Prayer are the identical syntax of the negative imperatives directed towards God, “do not hold us accountable” ( tu’ākhidhnā) and “do not make us” (lā taj‘alnā), which mirror “do not enter us” ( ta‘aln).

As for “the rebellious folk” (al-qawm al-kāfirūn) or “those who rebelled” (al- ladhīnā kafarū) from whom the faithful flock seek refuge in the Qur’ān, they represent one manifestation of “the evil one” (bīšā) found in line 10 of the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, line 10 which reads “but deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā),” is dogmatically re-articulated in a number of qur’ānic prayers. For example, Moses’ people pray,

Upon God have we placed our trust. Our Lord, do not make us a trial for the evil folk (lā taj‘alnā fitnah li al-qawm al-z.ālimīn); and deliver us—by your mercy—from the rebellious folk (wa najjinā bi rah. matik min al-qawm al-kāfirīn).

(Q 10:85–86: cf. 66:11)

Similarly, after Moses has killed an Egyptian he flees the city “fearfully looking about” and praying, “Our Lord, deliver me from the evil folk” (najjinī min al- qawm al-z.ālimīn; Q 28:21; cf. Q 23:28; see also 7:89; 26:169). The liturgical prayer formula found in the Qur’ān, “deliver us/me from the rebellious/evil folk” (najjinā/īmin al-qawm al-kāfirīn/al-z.ālimīn) reflects the syntax and meaning of “deliver us from the evil one (ēlā fas.ān mēn bīšā)” found in line 10 of the Lord’s Prayer. The verb najjinā/ī is a calque for fas.ān. Furthermore, the evil or oppressive folk (al-qawm al-kāfirīn/al-z.ālimīn) play the role of the perennial adversary/ adversaries faced by the prophets and their righteous entourage throughout the Qur’ān—the same role played by “the evil one” (bīšā) in the Aramaic Gospels (Matthew 5:37; John 17:15; and so on).

* Excerpts Ends *


Where are the Liberals in Syria & Egypt?

Conflict and reconciliation: “Arab liberalism” in Syria and Egypt 

By Emran El-Badawi

Burhan Ghalioun, former Chair, Syrian National Council

“How did renewed autocracy in Egypt and civil war in Syria impact liberals differently? What lessons can be learned about the nature of liberalism in the greater Arab context from this comparative survey? This chapter seeks to answer these questions, first by following the reaction of liberals to the so-called Arab Spring, comparing a handful of intellectuals and academics in Egypt as well as Syria. The chapter goes on to focus on two of the most prominent liberals in each context, namely Gaber Asfour and Burhan Ghalioun. In each case, the role played by the armed forces vis-à-vis the public was critical to their rapid accession to power, and equally rapid fall….”


Gaber Asfour, former Minister, Culture, Egypt

* Full article citation: Emran El-Badawi, “Conflict and Reconciliation: ‘Arab liberalism’ in Syria and Egypt,” Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism Illiberal Intelligentsia and the Future of Egyptian Democracy. Eds. Dalia Fahmy and Daanish Faruqi. London: OneWorld, 2017.

Trump’s America, Arabs & everything in between (audio)


I had the pleasure of sitting and talking with Arab Voices radio talk show host Said Fattouh last month. We discussed, among other things, the U.S. election results, populism, immigration, globalization; Trump’s impact on minority groups in the US; Muslims, Arabs, South Asians in America (contributions and challenges) and Middle East policy. You can hear the full show at the link below.




Trump’s Presidency is Delaying the Inevitable

The people have spoken. And they elected Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. Despite winning the popular vote Hillary Clinton lost a much anticipated historic election. Adding insult to injury the Republicans now have full control over Congress as well, and will likely bring about a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. As regressive and disturbing as this may all seem, let us not forget that The pendulum swings widely between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican almost every election cycle. Its a hard pill to swallow, but life goes on.

But this is bigger than the FBI’s meddling or losing on account Clinton’s e-mail scandal, and maybe even bigger than the Democratic National Committee sabotaging Bernie Sander’s candidacy. As the DNC, liberals and the indeed the world come to terms with this seismic step backwards in American politics, I offer these preliminary thoughts.

On November 9, 2016 the US caught up — as it were  — to the tidal wave of anti-globalization, anti-immigration and white (often Christian) nationalism that has swept through other democracies. The example of Brexit in the United Kingdom, the rise of Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France, the resurgence of NeoNazi groups in Germany, prime minister Victor Orban’s promotion of “Christian identity” in Hungary and even the Likud renewed nationalism in Israel — all suggest a global phenomenon. The reason’s for ‘global anti-globalization’ are many — the Euro-crisis, bank bailouts, collapsing oil prices, class warfare, perpetual war, the Arab Spring, ISIS, and on and on.



In the US the success of the nation’s first African American president stoked deep seated obstructionism — even racism — within the Republican party leadership, who tried to sabotage his presidency for eight years. Since 9/11 2001 the GOP has moved further and further to the right, reinforcing anti-globalization through its invasion of Iraq, courting the Tea Party, “birther” movement” and culminating in Trump’s hate speech. Much of the GOP animosity was directed against Obama’s African race and Muslim ancestry. Furthermore, America has lost most of its manufacturing jobs (some outsourced; others outmoded) and its growing Latino population will be the majority by 2044. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Trump called for building a wall across the Mexican border and banning Muslims from entering the the country?

As the renowned social scientist Zygmunt Bauman expressed about the world’s historical direction, there is a “crisis of humanity” and ‘no one is in charge.’ Across the world people have seen their standard of living decline, or worse they have suffered revolution, war and displacement unseen before World War II. History also teaches us that economic protest can, and frequently does, manifest itself in the form of nationalist xenophobia . The demographics of the world are changing. In other words predatory neoliberalism, ongoing wars in the Middle East and the global refugee and immigration crises are not the only change at hand. In the case of the US there are more and more brown and black people thriving — legally —  around a slowly dwindling caucasian population. There is no going back; and the changing face of America and the world is unfolding before our eyes. Trump’s win is merely delaying the inevitable.

On racism I leave you with the words of Van Jones.

There are serious — even disastrous — prospects of this Trump presidency — losing face before the world, dismantling healthcare for the poor and cutting taxes for the rich, and emboldening white supremacy. However, just as the media was correct to chasten Trump for calling democratic elections “rigged,” we have little choice but to accept the result of such and election, meticulously hold Trump accountable and live to fight another day.

Change is inevitable. This is a rancorous wake up call to change our polity. Will Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein or another third party candidate have a chance in 2020? Will the two party system ever open up? Will our leaders stop pandering to money and start serving the people? Will old white men stop trying to forcibly control or demonize women, LGBTs, African Americans, Latinos and non-white immigrants? Will the US invest in itself and stop (over)policing the world? These are not supposed to be partisan issues. One can only hope that Trump and his GOP appointees will cause the least damage.

When The Largest Oil Exporter Quits the Game (Forbes)

My latest article now on Forbes

University of Houston Energy Fellows

Emran El-Badawi, Program Director and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies


When The Largest Oil Exporter Quits The Game

“We have a case of oil addiction in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is dangerous.” So says Muhammad ibn Salman Al-Saud, deputy crown prince and minister of defense in his highly publicized April 25, 2015 interview with Al-Arabiyya. He continued, “We should treat oil as an investment, not a primary or absolute commodity.”

This is precisely the impulse behind the “Saudi Vision 2030.” The plan was crafted by Prince Muhammad – a young but shrewd visionary in his own right – and its aim is to wean the world’s largest oil exporter of its ‘dangerous addiction’ by 2030.

The 15-year plan comes at a time of historic economic and political instability. Since June 2014 oil prices that typically had been over $100 per barrel fell to below $50 and have not recovered. Going from “hero to zero” cut over 350 thousand energy sector jobs in just one year – 120,000 jobs in the U.S. alone – and starved the Venezuelan economy, literally. Meanwhile much of the Middle East still suffers from war, popular demonstrations and renewed government crackdowns since the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2010/2011.

The Impact of Oil on MENA Societies

Studying the Saudi 2030 Oil Plan, its political context in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and the global energy market became part of my mission as a researcher and educator at the University of Houston. I piloted an interdisciplinary course last summer for UH Energy and the C.T. Bauer College of Business on “Oil, Religion and the Middle East.” In this course, students of engineering, political science and the humanities came together to discuss the impact of oil on MENA societies. We examined in detail:

1. The “oil curse” and the phenomenon of the “rentier state”
2. How the oil and gas sector shapes cultural and social norms
3. Initiatives promoting transparency, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental sustainability.

And what does religion have to do with oil in this region? Everything. Or as Prince Muhammad summarizes, “Our constitution has become scripture, tradition and oil!”

King Salman Al-Saud remains the “custodian of the two holy mosques.” His Kingdom is simultaneously the most powerful member state of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

In other words, Saudi Arabia controls global oil as much as it does modern Islam. Therein lies the gravity of this economic plan.

Vision 2030: Growth, Diversification and Investment

Currently Saudi Arabia remains the largest global exporter of oil at about 360 million barrels per year; it is home to the largest proven oil reserves at almost 260-270 billion barrels (18 percent of global reserves). So how does the leader of the pack quit at the top of his game? Among the plan’s details are three sweeping economic changes:

  1. Selling 5 percent of government-run Saudi Aramco in the largest IPO in history
  2. Reducing government subsidies and introducing taxes for the first time
  3. Establishing a $2 trillion national investment fund

Valued at several trillion dollars Saudi Aramco remains the largest corporate entity in the world – state-run or otherwise. Aramco’s precise value is a state secret, which is a problem for any investor. So the plan calls for increased transparency. The size and importance of the company mean the Saudis are unlikely to give up the strategic value of oil itself. They might instead turn over logistics or petrochemicals to the private sector.

For an investment deal this big there are skeptics as well as optimists– and justifiably so. In sum, a successful IPO is critical to the plan’s execution … and its credibility.

Reducing government subsidies is a must. Since its founding almost a century ago the Saudi welfare state has given generous lifelong subsidies to its citizens. There are no taxes to speak of, and immigrant workers make up 30 percent of the general population. Government hand outs and foreign labor are part of Saudi culture. This might explain why the government has begun to tax immigrant workers but not Saudi citizens – a highly problematic start. How will imposing income, property or utility taxes affect the demographics of the kingdom? What ripple effects will this have on GDP, labor laws, political reform? Only time will tell.

When it comes to his investment, Prince Muhammad is on more solid ground. He claims the “Saudi mindset is a financial mindset” – and he is right. The Saudi central bank holds $117 Billion in US treasury bonds – surprisingly low given its sheer wealth. On the private sector front, the billionaire Al-Waleed ibn Talal, a member of the Al-Saud royal family, has bailed out everyone from CitiGroup to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. This is to say nothing of domestic Saudi investment in infrastructure, healthcare and retail – which are all state of the art. In this vein a $2 trillion investment fund may have a chance of diverting resources from oil towards realizing the prince’s dream to make Saudi Arabia a “global investment powerhouse.”

The plan also calls for diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy – currently 90 percent oil driven. What other industries can flourish in the desert? The plan aims to spur growth in natural gas, real estate, mining, tourism and other sectors. The plan also calls for creating jobs for both men and women, improving people’s quality of life and – given the government’s religious mandate – improving the country’s morals while empowering its global Islamic prestige. Overall, the stated goals of Vision 2030 are ambitious bordering on inconceivable. But they are steps in the right direction.

Why Now?

For energy economists and historians – even the skeptics among them – the 2030 Saudi Oil Plan is long overdue. It represents a milestone in global energy and geopolitics: using oil wealth to divest from oil. It also comes in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol of 2005, Paris Agreement of 2015, China’s “five year plan” to reduce air pollution and other concrete efforts by the world’s largest economies to cut emissions in response to climate change. By framing the plan as a “vision” and underscoring large government projects, the Saudis are doing business the “Arab way.” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s “New Suez Canal” has been the region’s most recent marvel, although revenues have been too low to help Egypt’s struggling economy. But the Saudis are thinking much bigger than the Egyptians anyway. It was Prince Muhammad ibn Rashid Al-Maktoum’s 2004 economic development plan, “My Vision,” that transformed Dubai into the opulent global city-state it is today. (The Saudis and Emiratis are also competing for who can build the tallest building in the world – an entirely different matter!)

Saudi Arabia is also fighting a number of foreign as well as domestic battles. Quarrels over succession within the Al-Saud family have persisted for years; Saudi women are increasingly active in their fight for equality and the nation’s youth are increasingly marginalized and open to radical influences. The kingdom is mired in wars in both Yemen and Syria, draining a record $100 billion out of the Saudi economy between 2015 and 2016 alone.

In both wars its arch nemesis is Iran, with whom U.S. president Barack Obama has made a deal. To complicate matters further, today’s record low oil prices are the result of economic warfare between Saudi crude and U.S. shale. In this context, Vision 2030 means the Saudis are desperately getting rid of a depreciating commodity – some analysts say bursting the “oil bubble” – and adjusting their economy for a future where oil may be overtaken by alternative fuel sources. That, however, is a subject for another day.

Dr. Emran El-Badawi is Program Director and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, University of Houston. His research examines liberalism, Islamism and the impact of oil and gas on MENA societies. His work includes advising government, legal and business communities on Middle East related projects.

UH Energy is the University of Houston’s hub for energy education, research and technology incubation, working to shape the energy future and forge new business approaches in the energy industry.