RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has defended his bold reform plans, including the kingdom's decision to lift the ban on women driving, saying that "we were not like this in the past."
The prince said that "we want to go back to what we were: moderate Islam," speaking during a rare public appearance at a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
The heir to the throne says the kingdom will work to defeat extremist ideas and ensure that young Saudis live in harmony with the rest of the world.
"We will eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon... We represent the moderate teachings and principles of Islam," he said.
He addressed a panel that included business titans Stephen Schwarzman of US private equity firm Blackstone and Masayoshi Son of Japan's technology conglomerate SoftBank.
The panelists later lavished praise on the 32-year-old prince for his "passion", "vision" and "enthusiasm" but he interjected, saying he is only "one of 20 million people. I am nothing without them."
The Crown Prince has announced plans for a new USD 500 billion city to be built in the country's northwest that will be run entirely on alternative energy and be an innovation hub for the future.
The project, dubbed Neom, will be built on untouched land along the country's Red Sea coastline near Egypt and Jordan. The ambitious project could lead the way in the use of drones, driverless cars and robotics.
The kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, which the crown prince chairs, the Saudi government and global technology firms will help build the city.
Prince Mohammed announced the project on Tuesday at a major investment conference in Riyadh aimed at shining a spotlight on the kingdom's efforts to diversify its revenue streams away from dependence on oil exports.
Saudi Arabia has opened a major investment conference aimed at shining a spotlight on the country's efforts to diversify its revenue streams and overhaul its economy and society.
At the heart of these reforms are plans to build the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. The kingdom hopes to do this by listing less than five per cent of state-owned oil firm Aramco and transferring control of those funds to its Public Investment Fund, or PIF as its known.
The fund grabbed headlines with a USD 3.5 billion investment in ride-hailing service Uber last year.
The conference, dubbed the Future Investment Initiative , runs for three days. It's being attended by giants in the business world, corporate managers from some of the world's largest firms and top Saudi officials.