Power play: Influence can be won and lost

The truth is, influence can be won and lost — often overnight.
Taking charge New Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
By Courtney Trenwith
Tue 27 Jun 2017 11:22 AM

This week’s issue is the most highly anticipated, and probably the most contentious, of any published by Arabian Business each year.

Most people want to be influential. Most people think they are more or less influential than others perceive. In a nutshell, influence is subjective.

But there are some outstanding Arabs — all over the world — whose influence really cannot be denied. It is a delicate task not only to whittle down the longlist to just 100 but then also attempt to rank them.

But while it may be difficult and a big responsibility, it is one of my favourite issues to edit because I not only read the 100 words or so written about each of the list’s entries but in doing the research, I discovered so much more about these inspiring people and their impact on the world.

There are those such as Sheikh Ahmed and Amin Nasser, whose local efforts in business have had global repercussions; and those such as Fadi Ghandour and Elissa Freiha whose support of small businesses is cultivating an enduring new ecosystem in the GCC, not to mention Ronaldo Mouchawar’s stunning sale to Amazon in a deal likely to catapult e-commerce here.

Women have made a particularly strong standing in this year’s list. While their outstanding achievements in their respective fields of science, law, journalism, etcetera, are praiseworthy alone, they are poignantly aware of the trailblazing paths they are setting and using their example to not only inspire other women but, just as importantly, to initiate change.

As we were finalising the 100 Most Influential Arabs in the World list last week, there was a stunning example of the impact of power. Defying several generations of tradition, Saudi King Salman ousted his nephew Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef as heir to the throne and installed his son Mohammed Bin Salman.

Without getting into the merits of, or reasons for, the decision, it made Mohammed Bin Salman the most powerful 30-something-year-old on the planet. He is not only second in line but as Deputy Prime Minister, defence minister and in charge of an economic transformation programme, he is essentially the man running the largest and richest country in the Gulf, and the second in the Arab world.

It also further signals the conservative kingdom’s modernisation and its gradual opening up, a new direction that was initiated and is being led by Crown Prince Mohammed.

His meteoric rise comes as he has unapologetically and eagerly driven the kingdom’s fastest transformation in its history — both economically and socially.

His Vision 2030 document, released in April 2016, not only sets out a path to diversify the economy away from oil but takes the bold (but utterly necessary) step to cut public sector entitlements and push Saudis into the private workforce — dramatically overturning the expectations of nationals.

He was one of the first foreign dignitaries to meet US President Donald Trump, visiting the White House within two months of the new presidency, and is believed to be responsible for orchestrating Trump’s recent stop-off in Riyadh, where he met with several Arab leaders. The Crown Prince’s efforts to engage Trump have been credited with helping to re-align the US-Saudi relationship back to the anti-Iran alliance that had existed before the Obama administration, and a foreign policy that Saudi Arabia deems crucial for its security.

But while the Crown Prince may wield an overwhelming amount of power, influence is not the tenure of one human. There are hundreds more Arabs creating significant impacts in a myriad of ways.

As everyone knows by now, social media has become one of the most significant platforms for cultivating – and measuring — influence. Some of the people on our list have millions of followers; what they say and do online can sway public opinion.

The increasingly public nature of our world, and the dramatic pace at which opinions can change, means that by the time we publish the 2018 version of the 100 Most Influential Arabs in the World, I can guarantee there will be some fresh faces and another edition of fascinating stories. But for now, let’s look at 2017. Where do you fit in the ranking?

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