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Young Saudi entrepreneurs at a Riyadh conference last month mingled comfortably across the gender divide.In the southern border town of Najran, the future envisioned by Prince Mohammad feels far away, while his war in neighboring Yemen is a daily reality.Saudi modernizers are in a hurry, but it's not clear how much their plans resonate with the public. After the 2014 oil slump pushed the kingdom's budget deep into deficit, Prince Mohammad drew up ambitious plans to cut the government payroll, encourage private business and domestic industry, bring women into the workforce and attract foreign investment.The change in direction goes beyond Saudi Arabia's $650 billion economy: Under its new leadership, the kingdom has jettisoned a traditionally cautious foreign policy and become embroiled in a war in neighboring Yemen, fighting rebels it says are backed by regional rival Iran.The prince wants to import foreign capital and know-how, too: It was his private foundation that hosted the Riyadh entrepreneurship forum, with speakers including executives from Siemens AG, Cisco Systems Inc. and Breyer Capital. His agenda has a natural constituency among more educated Saudis in the capital or the coastal cities of Dammam and Jeddah.Old certainties have been thrown into question by Prince Mohammad. His plan foresees moving Saudis out of secure state jobs, part of a retrenchment that aims to rescue the budget from a 15 percent deficit last year.
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