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Bahrain crown prince: We're creating a future away from oil

From Richard Quest, CNN
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Bahrain's crown prince talks with CNN's Richard Quest about the country's future.
  • Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa, in conversation with Richard Quest
  • Sheikh Salman is credited with bringing a wave of reforms to the small island country
  • He talks about a diversified Bahraini economy, democracy, the role of the state

Manama, Bahrain (CNN) -- Economic reformer, champion of education and sports enthusiast, Sheikh Salman Al-Khalifa has been Bahrain's leading political figure since being named Crown Prince in 1999.

The Western-educated 40-year-old is credited with opening up an era of progressive government reforms and introducing a liberal economic strategy to the small island country in the Arabian Gulf.

When not being either Commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defense Force, chairman of Housing and Urban Development or chair of Council for Youth and Sports, the crown prince is a serious sports enthusiast who spearheaded bringing the Formula One Grand Prix to Bahrain, seeing off stiff competition from other countries in the region.

Here, he talks to CNN's Richard Quest about a diversified economy, democracy and the role of the state.

Crown Prince Sheik Salam: We are moving into a far more diversified economy that is dependent on the private sector as the main engine of growth as opposed to the private sector spending our natural resources in driving the economic cycle forward.

And we're going to do that by really stimulating business by transforming the role of government and continuing to invest in new technologies and innovations

CNN: So, it's a reduction of the role of government?

SS: Yes

The types of companies we want to attract; those that create high-value jobs, build into our logistics infrastructure
--Sheik Salman, crown prince of Bahrain
  • Bahrain
  • Middle East
  • World Economy

CNN: And in doing so that is a cultural difference the people here are going to have to get used to. The government as provider is no longer. The government as regulator is the future.

SS: Well let's think of it as growing the private sector and replacing the fundamental role that the government takes with a virtuous cycle that spreads wealth and develops productivity for all of our citizens.

CNN: Why? Why are you doing it?

SS: We have to. I mean we're not in any danger of running out of oil in the next 10 years but for the future generations, that expect a better future than their parents had, we have to build an economy that is based on productivity and in order to do that we need to invest in education we need to get them skills new technologies. It gives them a better life. I mean is there any other reason to develop an economic program?

CNN: No, but as you diversify you've got to decide where you are going to diversify.

SS: We have a good idea of where we're going.

CNN: And you're going financial services...

SS: We're going financial services, we're going manufacturing. We're going into niche products so that we specialize and do what we do well.

CNN: Earlier this week the finance minister talked to me about the fact that obviously the economy here wasn't as badly hit, the banks were more cautious and everything was a bit more restrained.

SS: Yes

CNN: But that restraint also meant you didn't enjoy the boom years of previous decades didn't it? You lost ground?

SS: Well we had growth but we did not grow as fast that is true.

CNN: And you lost ground...

SS: We gained but slower than others.

CNN: Is there a risk that you don't have the drive necessary to claw back some of that?

SS: Well I would respectfully suggest that our ambition is firmly in the right place. We intend to grow and we intend to provide that future to our citizens and we intend to compete.

CNN: What will you not be doing?

SS: Well we don't have the luxury of going for the whole 'shabang' so to speak. We can't be the masters of everything, we really have to focus our talent so we have to pick areas where we want to focus. Logistics for example. We have a world-class infrastructure in the new Khalifa Port. We have the Salman Industrial City. We know the types of companies we want to attract; those that create high-value jobs, those that build into our logistics infrastructure.

CNN: A service orientated economy...

SS: Yes sir

CNN::...With major clients around you

SS: Yes a trillion dollar market today. Two trillion dollars by 2020.

CNN: Get it right and you've built a sustainable society for the next hundred years. Get it wrong...

SS: And we will have problems. I want the young people of Bahrain to believe their future is in their hands. And I want them to have the skills and the tools to make it happen, so education is critical, and making sure we transcend the fissures that exist in any society, whether they be sectarian whether they be caste based whether they are skill based we must do our utmost to give everyone a fighting chance.

CNN: How is this country adapting to the concept of democracy?

SS: I think it is adapting very well. We must remember that our society was always an open one. It was about institutionalizing the process of consultation that we have embarked or will. Because of the process of institutionalizing the consultation we embarked on this reform program.

CNN: But I wonder if His Majesty and yourself, respectfully, are actually trying to hold the democratic tiger by the tail and that is inevitable that it is going to come and bite.

SS: No I disagree with that. I think democracy is a process. It is a set of values and legal institutions: separation of powers, voting rights, due process of law, all of those things that are in place as we speak today.